The 5th of August is Oyster Day.
You get to enjoy the salty, sweet flavour of oysters at every meal today if you want — and if you can think of a way to have them at breakfast!
The same species of oysters can taste very different dependent on where they were grown.
A lot of people don’t like oysters, because they see people eating them raw, but in fact, most food safety professionals now warn strongly against eating them that way. Delicious, safe ways of serving oysters include baked, boiled, fried, grilled, smoked or steamed.
If you are concerned about sustainability, look for farmed oysters that are native to your area. Farmed ones are typically safer as well, but that is no guarantee. “Recently, many people became ill in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario after eating raw oysters harvested from B.C. farms.” Farber, Jeffrey M., Professor of Food Safety. Why you may never eat raw oysters again. The Conversation. 22 May 2018. Accessed June 2021 at https://theconversation.com/why-you-may-never-eat-raw-oysters-again-96456
Some restaurants now participate in a recycling programme that takes used oyster shells to be used as host shells for growing new oysters. This helps to keep the shells out of landfill. ”The oyster larvae are attracted naturally to the shell, so they will seek that out and it’s the best substrate for them to grow from, for them to thrive.” King, Kristi. What DC-area restaurants are doing for National Oyster Day. Washington, DC: WTOP-TV. 3 August 2018. Accessed June 2021 at https://wtop.com/local/2018/08/what-dc-area-restaurants-are-doing-for-national-oyster-day/
Should you eat oysters raw or not?
Eating raw oysters is an activity that most gourmands relish, and pooh-pooh the idea that it could be dangerous.
Still, it’s true that 99.9% of food safety experts wouldn’t eat raw oysters if you paid them. They see the numbers behind the scenes that we don’t.
Vibriosis is one of the diseases that can develop from raw oyster consumption; it is caused by vibrio bacteria. “Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year.” Vibrio Species Causing Vibriosis. CDC. Accessed July 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/index.html
If you are consuming raw oysters, be sure they were harvested from designated areas and approved waters, and sourced through an approved vendor (in the U.S., certified by the FDA and the National Shellfish Program). This will help to reduce the risk.
Raw Oyster Myths
1. Oysters harvested during a month with R in it are safer
“Oysters… are safe to eat in any month. The old adage about not eating oysters in months without an ‘R’ comes from the days when refrigeration was much less available than today.” ”Frequently asked questions about Maine oysters”. University of Maine Extension Service. Accessed July 2021 at https://seagrant.umaine.edu/extension/the-oyster-trail-of-maine/frequently-asked-questions-about-maine-oysters/
Cases of vibriosis are now being reported year round.
“Never serve oysters in a month that has no paycheck in it.” P. J. O’Rourke (American journalist. 14 November 1947 – )
2. Oysters from clean, unpolluted waters are safe from Vibrio bacteria
False. Vibrio bacteria are natural bacteria in the environment; their presence is not related to pollution.
3. Hot sauce, lemon juice and alcohol consumed at the same time will kill the bacteria.
4. You can tell an infected oyster from an uninfected one.
False. There is no way to see, smell or taste the difference.
5. If they are infected, just a few are safe.
False. Death has been documented after only three infected oysters.
(Sources: Farber, Jeffrey M., Professor of Food Safety. Why you may never eat raw oysters again. The Conversation. 22 May 2018. Accessed June 2021 at https://theconversation.com/why-you-may-never-eat-raw-oysters-again-96456 and Raw Oyster Myths (FDA) https://www.fda.gov/food/health-educators/raw-oyster-myths )
Raw Oyster Safety
“I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead. Not sick. Not wounded. Dead.” Woody Allen (1 December 1935 – )
The University of Delaware Marine Advisory Service says,
“Do not eat raw seafood if you have the following medical conditions:
— Liver disease, including cirrhosis, hemochromatosis, and chronic alcohol use.
— Diabetes mellitus.
— Immune disorders, including AIDS, cancer, and reduced immunity due to steroid or immunosuppressant therapy.
— Gastrointestinal disorders, including previous gastric surgery and low gastric acid (for example, from antacid use or achlorhydria).
Since Vibrio is destroyed by heat, consumers who are at risk (see medical conditions above) are advised to enjoy shellfish in their many delicious, cooked preparations.” Hicks, Doris. Consumers: Know the facts about eating raw shellfish (University of Delaware). Rev. 2/95:3K. Accessed June 2021 at http://www1.udel.edu/db/Mas%20note/Notes/raw.shellfish.html
But having a pre-existing medical condition just makes you more susceptible. For those without, there’s still a danger, and there’s no way of knowing by looking at or smelling an oyster if it is dangerous:
“How do you know if the oysters you’re about to suck down have the bacteria? You can’t know. An oyster that contains the vibrio bacteria doesn’t look, taste or smell any different from an oyster that doesn’t have the bacteria, according to the CDC. There’s only one tried-and-true way to make sure any oyster you want to eat is safe. “Have them cooked. Have them fried, have them boiled. You need to have high, sustained temperatures to kill the organism.” Monteverde, Danny. VERIFY: Can eating raw oysters be fatal? New Orleans, Louisiana: WWLTV. 8 January 2018. Accessed June 2021 at https://www.wwltv.com/article/news/local/verify/verify-can-eating-raw-oysters-be-fatal/506262154
Enjoy your oysters baked, boiled, fried, grilled or steamed.
Activities for today
- Go to a fishmonger to view the different types of oysters available;
- post photos of your fish market visit on social media;
- try a new oyster recipe today using fresh or frozen oysters;
- see if you can find some oyster shucking contests today you can view or participate in;
- look for an oyster bar that will allow samplings of different species of oysters;
- go shopping for pearls;
- visit an oyster farm that offers tours.
Celebrating National Oyster Day Safely (ServSafe)
Consumers: Know the facts about eating raw shellfish (University of Delaware)
Everything you need to know about oyster sustainability (Northeastern University)
Oysters and Vibriosis (CDC)
Raw Oyster Myths (FDA)
Why you may never eat raw oysters again (University of Guelph)
The first print mention that CooksInfo is aware of for an annual Oyster Day on the 5th of August dates from 2009 in Boston:
“Today” types Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb will sample Legal Sea Foods goodies today on the occasion of National Oyster Day.” — Shanahan, Mark and Meredith Goldstein. Names. Boston, MA: The Boston Globe. Wednesday, 5 August 2009. Page B14, col. 4.
Wood, Bill. National Oyster Day is every day with the oldest oyster shucker in New Orleans. New Orleans, LA: WGNO-TV. 6 August 2018. Accessed June 2021 at https://wgno.com/2018/08/06/national-oyster-day-is-every-day-with-the-oldest-oyster-shucker-in-new-orleans/
|↑1||Farber, Jeffrey M., Professor of Food Safety. Why you may never eat raw oysters again. The Conversation. 22 May 2018. Accessed June 2021 at https://theconversation.com/why-you-may-never-eat-raw-oysters-again-96456|
|↑2||”The oyster larvae are attracted naturally to the shell, so they will seek that out and it’s the best substrate for them to grow from, for them to thrive.” King, Kristi. What DC-area restaurants are doing for National Oyster Day. Washington, DC: WTOP-TV. 3 August 2018. Accessed June 2021 at https://wtop.com/local/2018/08/what-dc-area-restaurants-are-doing-for-national-oyster-day/|
|↑3||Vibrio Species Causing Vibriosis. CDC. Accessed July 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/index.html|
|↑4||”Frequently asked questions about Maine oysters”. University of Maine Extension Service. Accessed July 2021 at https://seagrant.umaine.edu/extension/the-oyster-trail-of-maine/frequently-asked-questions-about-maine-oysters/|
|↑5||Hicks, Doris. Consumers: Know the facts about eating raw shellfish (University of Delaware). Rev. 2/95:3K. Accessed June 2021 at http://www1.udel.edu/db/Mas%20note/Notes/raw.shellfish.html|
|↑6||Monteverde, Danny. VERIFY: Can eating raw oysters be fatal? New Orleans, Louisiana: WWLTV. 8 January 2018. Accessed June 2021 at https://www.wwltv.com/article/news/local/verify/verify-can-eating-raw-oysters-be-fatal/506262154|