Oysters are one of nature’s great gifts to man. Plucked straight from the sea and shucked to order, they taste of the briny waters from which they were pulled and are the hallmark of a great raw bar or seafood restaurant. Millions of people eat oysters every year and don’t get sick, so is there really anything to be afraid of?
Probably not, but the emphasis is on probably. If you’re a healthy adult with no immune system disorders, and if the oyster is shucked in front of you at a reputable establishment, then you have next to nothing to be afraid of. If an oyster smells like anything other than the sea, however, don’t eat it. Don’t order oysters at any establishment where you think they might be less than fresh, like at a roadside bar. Use common sense and you’ll be fine.
However, there is one major hazard to eating raw oysters, a bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus. This bacterium thrives in warm coastal areas, and according to the FDA, it can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted. It can be life threatening or even fatal if consumed by someone with liver disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system. According to the CDC, raw oysters are responsible for 85 hospitalizations and 35 deaths nationwide every year. They are the leading cause of seafood-related death in the United States. The only way to completely kill the bacteria is by cooking the oyster through, so if you’re concerned you might want to stick with po’boys.