Louisiana health officials have temporarily shut down an oyster harvesting area after receiving reports of 14 illnesses resulting from consumption of contaminated oysters from the area. In addition, health officials are ordering a recall of all oysters grown in “Area 23”, which is located in Terrebonne Parish outside of New Orleans, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
The foodborne illnesses were reported among restaurant-goers in the New Orleans area, but the suspected contaminated oysters have been shipped to Georgia, Texas and Maryland as well. The affected oysters had been processed to varying degrees, including shucked, breaded and distributed to be served on the half shell.
According to state health officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the oyster contamination was likely the result of sewerage dumped from a boat in the harvesting area. The New York Times reports that the area will be shut down for 21 days, which is the amount of time it takes for oysters to purge themselves of the virus.
Oysters are notorious for causing foodborne illnesses. In 2007, the CDC reported that seafood represented 27% of foodborne illness outbreaks that could be attributed to a single commodity, even though seafood is consumed in far smaller quantities than other animal products in the United States.
One particular concern about oysters is that they are frequently exposed to Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium that occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico. According to a recent report issued by The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an average of 32 people become ill from eating oysters contaminated with V. vulnificus every year, with about half of the cases resulting in death.
Victims of V. vulnificus and oyster aficionados may be surprised to learn that illnesses and deaths caused by this lethal bacterium are entirely preventable. Since 2001, the state of California has implemented a regulation that requires oysters shipped from the gulf to undergo a light processing technique that effectively kills the bacterium in question. Since implementation of the new safety standards, California’s reported cases of V. vulnificus have dropped to nearly zero.
Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its commitment to eliminate cases of V. vulnificus in 2009, it has failed to do so. Instead of implementing the practice that has been proven nearly 100% successful in California, the FDA continues to attempt to solve the problem through ineffective consumer education efforts and mild industry regulations.
According to public health advocate and food safety scholar Marion Nestle, the FDA’s failure to act results from pressure placed on politicians by oyster harvesting, processing and distribution companies. As a result of these greedy corporations and ineffective regulatory processes, at least 15 people are dying needlessly every year after being poisoned by oysters.
Foodborne illness may be an uncomfortable annoyance for some, but in special populations—particularly the young and the elderly—it can be a dangerous or even life-threatening issue. If you or a loved one has had a serious case of foodborne illness, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your suffering and losses. Contact us today, and allow our experienced attorneys to explain your legal rights and options to you.