Commissioner Adam H. Putnam

Florida Agriculture: 500 Years in the Making

Handling and Serving Oysters

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. If I serve raw oysters in my restaurant, what sign must be displayed?
    All Florida food service institutions serving raw oysters are required by the Florida Department of Health to display "on menus, table place cards or elsewhere in plain view of all patrons" the following notice:

    There is risk associated with consuming raw oysters. If you have chronic illness of the liver, stomach or blood, or have immune disorders, you are at greater risk of serious illness from raw oysters, and should eat oysters fully cooked. If unsure of your risk, consult a physician.
  2. Why do I need to put up this sign?
    Because Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria which occurs naturally in coastal waters throughout the world, may be found in raw or undercooked oysters. People who have certain health conditions and eat raw oysters can be at risk of serious illness or death and should not consume raw oysters. But everyone can enjoy cooked oysters because Vibrio vulnificus is killed when cooked.
  3. What about cooked oysters?
    Fully cooking oysters completely kills Vibrio vulnificus, so everyone can enjoy cooked oysters.
  4. What is Vibrio vulnificus?
    Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that occurs naturally in marine waters.
  5. Who is at risk from eating raw oysters?
    At-risk conditions include:

    -- Liver disease, either from an excessive alcohol intake (2 to 3 drinks daily), viral hepatitis or other causes. (Liver disease will put you at increased risk for Vibrio vulnificus infection from raw oysters. The risk of infection is 200 times greater for individuals with liver disease than those without liver disease.)

    -- Iron disorder hemochromatosis

    -- Diabetes

    -- Cancer

    -- Stomach problems, including previous stomach surgery and low stomach acid (for example, from antacid use)

    -- Immune disorders, including HIV infection long-term steroid use, e.g., asthma and arthritis If you are an older adult, you may be at greater risk of having these conditions than a younger person.

    If you are or think you may be in any of these risk categories, you should not eat raw oysters. If you are unsure of your risk check with your doctor.
  6. Can I avoid this problem by buying oysters harvested from clean waters?
    The presence of the bacteria is not a result of pollution or poor product handling. Eating oysters from "clean" waters or in reputable restaurants with high product turnover does not provide protection.
  7. What about eating hot sauce with the oysters? Does it kill the bacteria?
    Eating raw oysters with hot sauce or while drinking alcohol does not kill the bacteria.
  8. What are the guidelines for cooking Oysters?
    In the shell:
    -- Cook live oysters in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes after shells open. Steam live oysters 4 to 9 minutes.

    -- Boil or simmer for at least 3 minutes or until edges curl.
    -- Fry in oil for at least 3 minutes at 375 degrees F.
    -- Broil 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes.
    -- Bake (as in Oysters Rockefeller) for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F.
    -- Microwave for 10 1/2 minutes in a 650-watt oven.

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