A recent recall in Washington state is causing concern about the safety of this popular shellfish.

Oysters are a polarizing food. Some people associate them with luxury and romance, while others can't stand the texture. Oh yeah, and did we mention they are actually still alive when you eat them? If you are a fan of the raw shellfish, a recent recall out of Washington state is definitely worth noting.  

On July 16th, Washington state issued a recall for oysters harvested from the Samish Bay growing area in Puget Sound. They hypothesize that the ongoing heat wave coupled with the low tide is responsible for the oysters' exposure to an environmental bacteria called vibrio. Vibrio naturally exist in certain coastal waters, and their numbers can rise during warmer weather months, typically between May and October. The extreme heat in Washington has led to high levels of vibrio in the water, which is affecting oyster populations. 

Raw oysters and lemons on a designed background with a recall button
Credit: Getty Images / HUIZENG HU

If someone eats an oyster that contains vibrio bacteria, they can contract an intestinal disease called vibriosis. Common symptoms of vibriosis include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills. Illness typically lasts two to three days. However, people with compromised immune systems, diabetes, chronic liver disease and AIDS are at an increased risk of severe symptoms and should contact a doctor promptly if they believe they could have vibriosis. As of July 16, 2021, Washington state reported 52 lab-confirmed cases of vibriosis, 46 of which were foodborne. This is compared to 5 cases in 2020 and 25 cases in 2018. 

So what is the best way to reduce your risk of contracting vibriosis? Cooking your shellfish. A temperature of 145 degrees F for 15 seconds can kill the vibrio virus. Plus, cooked oysters can be just as delicious as raw oysters—just take our Grilled Oysters with Garlic-Herb Butter and Oysters au Gratin with Spinach & Breadcrumbs recipes as proof. Any time you enjoy oysters raw there is some risk for contracting vibriosis. That said, waiting to enjoy them in the colder months can lower the levels of vibrio bacteria in the water and lower your risk. Also, try other seafood recipes such as Classic Shrimp Cocktail or Grilled Clams with Corn & Pepper Relish to get your fix.