a time-honored tradition on the coast: holiday dinner with oyster
dressing. State environmental officials are encouraging those who
partake in this seasonal ritual to take some common-sense precautions
when buying, storing and preparing oysters to prevent illnesses caused
by environmental bacteria. The same is true for clams.
vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are common, naturally occurring
bacteria found in coastal waters worldwide and are most abundant when
water temperatures are warm. In rare instances, these bacteria can
cause serious gastrointestinal illnesses or wound infections.
the past several years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
have reported an increase in Vibrio infections across the United
States. People with compromised immune systems are most at risk,
particularly for the more serious illnesses caused by Vibrio
vulnificus. However, everyone is susceptible to less severe illness
caused by pathogenic strains of Vibrio parahaemolyticus.
they indulge, consumers should remember these tips from the N.C.
Division of Marine Fisheries’ Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational
Water Quality Section:
cooking destroys these naturally occurring Vibrio bacteria. Those with
the following conditions are at higher risk for illness from raw or
undercooked oysters and clams and are advised to fully cook all
- Liver disease (from hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholism or cancer)
- Iron overload disease (Hemochromatosis)
- Cancer (including lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease)
- Stomach disorders
- Any illness or treatment that weakens the immune system. If you are unsure of your risk, ask your doctor.
purchase oysters and clams from reputable dealers, retailers, grocers,
markets or restaurants. It is illegal for shellfish harvesters to sell
directly to the public without a dealer license and certified facility.
These facilities are regulated to ensure sanitation and temperature
control is maintained on the shellfish.
law, a shellfish tag must be removed by the vendor at the last point of
sale. However, you may ask to see the tag to ensure you are receiving a
fresh product. For the best quality, shellfish should be consumed
within 10 days of harvest. If properly refrigerated, they are still
safe to eat for longer, but the quality will start to diminish.
oysters and clams refrigerated at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below until
you are ready to prepare them. The Vibrio bacteria commonly found in
shellfish can multiply rapidly if left exposed to air temperatures
above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
wash shellfish prior to cooking. Remove all mud and dirt from the shell
using water and a stiff brush. Many dealers will wash oysters for a
nominal fee when you purchase them. The mud and dirt may contain Vibrio
bacteria so it is important to clean the shellfish prior to serving or
to cooking or raw consumption, discard any dead shellfish. Dead
shellfish will have slightly gaping shells that will not close when
For those who harvest
of oysters by hand methods from public bottom opened at sunrise Oct.
who hold proper commercial fishing licenses may harvest oysters from
sunrise to sunset Monday through Friday each week. Commercial hand
harvest limits are different for some waters, and fishermen should
SF-5-2016 for specific hand
hand harvest is allowed sunrise to sunset seven days a week. The
harvest limit is one bushel of oysters per person per day or two
bushels per vessel per day if more than one person is on a boat. No
license is required for recreational harvest, but the oysters may not
minimum size limit is 3-inches shell length.
waters may temporarily close to shellfish harvesting due to high
bacteria levels associated with rainfall and stormwater runoff.
Fishermen should check here
for shellfish closures. Fishermen should
continue to frequently check for shellfish closures throughout the
year, particularly after heavy rains. They may also call the N.C.
Division of Marine Fisheries at 252-726-7021 or 1-800-682-2632 to
check for closures.
season opened Nov. 14 for mechanical harvest of oysters. Those who
hold the proper commercial fishing licenses should see Proclamation
SF-06-2016 for more information.
Mechanical harvest of oysters is not allowed without a commercial
shellfish safety, contact Shannon Jenkins, the division’s
Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality section chief,
at 252-808-8148 or [email protected].
this year’s oyster season, contact Tina Moore, with the division,
at 252-808-8082 or [email protected].