Oysters have been touted for their delicious flavor and health benefits for years, including their high content of vitamin B-12 and Zinc. Louisiana is the largest producer of oysters in the United States, and the majority of the oysters Louisiana produces go out of state, helping to make these low-calorie mollusks available to oyster lovers everywhere, according to Ralph "Buddy" Pausina, former chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.
Oysters can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, including the very popular raw oyster, but like all raw seafood, special precautions have to be taken to ensure that these Louisiana delicacies are delivered safely to consumers.
Louisiana is a voting member of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC). The ISSC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversee the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, which is a state/federal cooperative program charged with the sanitary control of shellfish produced and sold for human consumption.
In August 2007, the ISSC adopted proposal 07-202. This proposal was concurred with by the FDA on Dec. 20, 2007. Proposal 07-202 states that in order for oysters to continue to be sold in interstate commerce, anytime water temperatures rise above 81 degrees Fahrenheit, oysters for the half-shell market must be refrigerated within five hours after harvest. If oysters are not refrigerated within five hours after harvest, then they must be tagged, "For Cooking or Post-harvest Processing Only."
Because of this new oyster refrigeration requirement, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission ratified a declaration of emergency at their June 5 meeting allowing permitted vessels to receive oysters from harvest vessels for mechanical refrigeration within five hours of the beginning of daily harvest. This rule became effective June 24, 2008 and will only be in effect from May through October for oysters sold for raw consumption. The mechanical refrigeration must deliver an air temperature of 45 degrees or cooler.
Because of this new rule, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) will be issuing Oyster Cargo Vessel Permits. The permits provide for larger oyster vessels equipped with on-board mechanical refrigeration to accept containerized and tagged oyster harvests from smaller boats that do not have the room to install a refrigerator and cannot make it back to the dock within the five-hour refrigeration window. These permitted oyster cargo vessels will then transport the oyster harvests for these smaller vessels to the dock.
The Louisiana oyster industry has led the nation in the development of post-harvest processes including: individual quick freezing, low heat/cool pasteurization and high-hydrostatic pressure. These processes reduce the risk of oyster related illness from Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp).
According to the Center for Disease Control, Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a bacterium that lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. It is present in higher concentration during the summer, and some people become infected by eating raw or undercooked shellfish. According to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), on average, two cases of Vp are reported annually from persons consuming raw Louisiana oysters.
"People from all around the world love oysters, especially Louisiana oysters," said Pausina. "There is no reason to stop eating them in the warmer summer months because oyster harvesters and processors are taking extra steps to ensure that we are able to bring oyster lovers everywhere a delicious, quality product year round."
This proposal went into effect on June 20, 2008, and will only have to be implemented when water temperatures rise above 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Regulations for harvesting during cooler water temperatures remain the same. This proposal will be implemented by the Louisiana DHH's Center for Environmental Health Services and enforced by LDWF's Enforcement Division.
For more information, contact Ashley Roth, La. Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board communications manager, at 504-286-8735 or Ashley@LouisianaSeafood.com.