Filed under: Dining
Oysters are a huge part of life in Louisiana. Fresh oysters on the half shell eaten at the raw bar aren't just a delicacy but a tradition. But the FDA says that 15 people each year die from the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria and warm weather oysters are more likely to carry this deadly bacteria. Oysters can be treated with a bacteria-fighting technology but critics of the policy, which would go into effect in 2011, say that the treatments are expensive and there are too few of the oyster treating machines in place in the area. The price of treated oysters could skyrocket.
There is also a fear that the sterilized oysters don't have the same intensity of flavor as the untreated ones. Methods including soaking the oysters in hot and cold water baths, using a water pressure treatment, freezing or even irradiation. The FDA says that oysters treated with all these methods are safe to eat but all the processes except irradiation kill the oyster which takes away a bit of the naughty thrill of eating live shellfish.
Oysters are important to the Louisiana economy. Around 3,500 people are employed in the industry in the state. The LA Times reports that it has a $318-million annual impact on the economy and provides a third of the nation's oysters. Federal officials have said that Louisiana can regulate what goes on within its own state, the FDA only regulates food that passes over state lines.
Those who have seen the deadly effect of the vibrio bacteria feel that the raw oyster ban is a simple and necessary precaution but it's hard to convince the shuckers and longterm consumers of the need to change what they have always done.