FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A customer at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale has died of a bacterial infection after eating raw oysters. A Pensacola, Florida man died in the same way this month. Both cases involved Louisiana oysters.
Gary Oreal, who manages the Rustic Inn, told the South Florida SunSentinel that the deceased man worked years ago at the famous garlic crab restaurant.
“In 60 years, we’ve served a few billion oysters, and we’ve never had anyone get sick like this guy,” Oreal said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that the Vibrio bacteria does not make an oyster look, smell or taste different. The agency said about 80,000 people contract vibriosis in the United States each year and about 100 people die from it.
Florida Department of Health inspectors checked the restaurant’s kitchen and examined its inventory of oysters the day after the man fell ill, Oreal told the newspaper.
“We passed with flying colors and were allowed to continue selling oysters,” he said, adding that the oysters currently being served are from Louisiana. “If there was a problem with the oyster farm, we would know because others would have gotten sick.”
The restaurant has a sign warning customers of the risks of consuming raw shellfish.
“Oysters are at the top of the mountain for dangerous foods to eat,” Oreal said. “I’ve eaten it all my life and I will continue to. But you put yourself in danger when you do.
The Florida Department of Health says 26 people in the state have been infected with the bacteria and six of them later died after eating raw shellfish, including oysters, so far this year. . In 2021, 10 people died out of 34 sick people. In 2020, there were seven deaths among the 36 who fell ill.
Last week, a Pensacola man died after contracting the bacteria from oysters he purchased at a market, the Pensacola News Journal reported. That oyster also came from Louisiana, officials said.
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What to know about eating raw oysters
A seemingly healthy oyster may be riddled with bacteria but show no signs of contamination, according to Dr. Robert “Wes” Farr, a physician and professor at the University of West Florida.
The risks of getting sick from consuming an oyster are rare, but increase significantly with underlying conditions such as liver disease, diabetes or cancer. They can also be particularly dangerous for those on medications that reduce stomach acid, which is why Farr chooses not to consume them himself.
Summer remains a particularly notable time for infection cases, according to Farr, due to the heat of the water, especially in shallower areas.
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Often the disease can be cured by using an antibiotic to kill the infection, Farr said.
Although the oyster may look cool to the touch, chances are the temperature has risen above 40 degrees as the ice melts, putting them in dangerous territory for consumption.
The safest way to consume an oyster, Farr concluded, is to simply cook it, killing any existing bacteria.
Contributor: Brittany Misencik, Pensacola News Journal. The Associated Press.