Indulging in oysters on Valentine’s Day? With the help of the FDA, our Food Safety Team has put together some common misconceptions about oysters as well as some selection tips to aid you in selecting the perfect bushel of oysters!
Myth: Eating raw oysters are safe if you drown them in hot sauce, which kills everything.
Fact: The active ingredients in hot sauce have no more impact on harmful bacteria than plain water. Nothing but prolonged exposure to heat at a high enough temperature will kill bacteria.
Myth: Alcohol kills harmful bacteria.
Fact: Alcohol may kill your good judgment, but it doesn’t destroy harmful bacteria in the food you eat while drinking it.
Myth: Raw oysters are an aphrodisiac and will cure a hangover.
Fact: There is no scientific evidence that either of these commonly held beliefs is true.
Myth: Avoid oysters from polluted waters and you’ll be fine.
Fact: Vibrio vulnificus in oysters has nothing to do with pollution. Rather these bacteria thrive naturally in warm coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, where oysters live.
Myth: An experienced oyster lover can tell a good oyster from a bad one.
Fact: Vibrio vulnificus can’t be seen, smelled or even tasted. Don’t rely on your senses to determine if an oyster is safe — or any other food is free of bacteria or other pathogens.
Myth: Just a few oysters can’t hurt you.
Fact: Roberta Hammond, the Food and Waterborne Disease Coordinator for Florida, cites a case where a fatality caused by Vibrio vulnificus occurred after the victim ate only three oysters. The seriousness of any case depends on many factors, including how much bacteria is ingested and the person’s underlying health conditions.
Myth: Avoid raw oysters in months without the letter “R” and you’ll be safe.
Fact: While presence of Vibrio vulnificus bacteria is higher in warmer months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a full 40 percent of Vibrio infections occur during colder months from September through April.
Oyster Storage/Preparation & Selection Tips:
- Avoid and discard cracked or broken shelled oysters
- Live oysters will close up when their shell is tapped — if they don’t close, avoid selecting that particular oyster
- Keep them at or below 41℉ before cooking or during cold serving — place oysters on ice if serving to a large group
- Do not leave oysters out of 41℉ for more than 2 hours — the chances of food borne pathogens reproducing is increased while out of appropriate holding temperature
FDA offers these cooking tips:
- If you put the unshucked oysters into a pot of boiling water, keep cooking them another 3 to 4 minutes after the shells open. Discard any that don’t open
- If you’re cooking shucked oysters, boil or simmer them for at least 3 minutes or until the edges curl
- Fry shucked oysters at 375℉ for at least 3 minutes
- Broil shucked oysters 3 inches away from the heat for 3 minutes
- Bake shucked oysters at 450℉ for 10 minutes
- Barbecuing oysters just until they open will not kill vibrio bacteria so keep them on the grill for several more minutes after they open