FDA Widens Warning on Raw Oysters from Hood Canal

WASHINGTON, DC, August 24, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expanded its warning not to eat raw oysters from the Hood Canal in Washington state due to a foodborne illness outbreak caused by a natural bacterium, Vibrio parahaemolyticus.

On August 10, the agency warned about oysters harvested from growing area 6 of Hood Canal and today added growing area 5 at the southern tip of the Hood Canal to its warning statement.

Raw oysters harvested from growing area 5 in Hood Canal from July 31 through August 20, 2007 have caused at least six people to become ill in Washington state.

Records indicate that raw oysters from the area were distributed to California, Colorado, Idaho, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington state, and British Columbia, Canada.

Symptoms of vibriosis include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and chills. These symptoms usually appear about 12 hours after eating infected shellfish. The illness is usually mild to moderate and lasts for two to seven days; it can be life threatening to people with lowered immunity or chronic liver disease.

Severe disease is rare and occurs most commonly in people with weakened immune systems. Those who believe they have experienced these symptoms after consuming raw oysters should consult their health care provider and contact their local health department.

Those with weakened immune systems, including people affected by HIV/AIDS, chronic alcohol abuse, liver, stomach, or blood disorders, cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease, should avoid eating raw oysters, regardless of where they are harvested, the federal agency warned.

The Washington State Department of Health has closed the growing area associated with the illness and has asked commercial oyster harvesters and dealers who obtained oysters from this area to recall them.

Consumers who have recently purchased oysters should check with the place of purchase and ask if they were harvested from the affected growing areas. The recall involves both shucked oysters and oysters in the shell.

The FDA advises that consumers can continue to enjoy oysters in many cooked preparations. At restaurants order oysters fully cooked, the FDA says.

Purchase oysters with the shells closed and throw away any oysters with shells already opened.

Never allow raw seafood to come into contact with cooked food, the agency advises.

Boil oysters until the shells open. Once shells open, boil for an additional three to five minutes. To steam, add oysters to water that is already steaming and cook live oysters until the shells open. Once open, steam for another four to nine minutes.

The Washington state Department of Health says the best way to be sure shellfish are safe is to "Know Before You Dig." The Department of Health Shellfish Safety website www.doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm and the Shellfish Safety Hotline, 1-800-562-5632 have the facts..

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