Filed Under: Seafood

Paranoia on the half shell

Just when it looked like they had already attacked every food imaginable, the nannies at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have set their sights on shellfish (particularly oysters) harvested from Gulf Coast states like Louisiana and Mississippi. In an alarmist report entitled “Death on the Half Shell,” CSPI calls for a boycott of Gulf oysters harvested between April and October. Their argument is based on the observation that over 100 Americans have died since 1989 due to bacterial contamination found naturally in oysters during warm months. But as a New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial today points out, “What the [CSPI] report fails to stress is that the vast majority of people — those who have healthy immune systems and no underlying health problems — don’t have to worry about [the bacterium] and can enjoy raw oysters without any ill effect.” The Food and Drug Administration echoed this sentiment in an ABC News report.

The Times-Picayune is exactly right: “To imply that everyone has to give them up is irresponsible. Pressuring restaurants and seafood retailers and wholesalers to sell only cold water oysters or treated Gulf Coast oysters is simply unwarranted.” CSPI’s hysterical hand wringing aside, here’s some basic common sense: if you’re diabetic, have liver disease, or suffer from a suppressed immune system, consider eating shellfish that have been pasteurized to kill bacteria. A few major chain restaurants (Red Lobster comes to mind) sell only pasteurized oysters. Bon appetit!

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