Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love that for many involves cooking a special meal or venturing out for a romantic dinner. Treating your loved one to oysters, for example, has long been associated with romance and they are often found on restaurant menus this time of year.
However, before you indulge, it’s important to understand that consumption of raw oysters can lead to serious illness if care isn’t taken to make wise decisions.
According to the FDA, the most common foodborne illness associated with consumption of raw oysters is vibriosis. Vibriosis, caused the pathogen Vibrio vulnificus, can be life threatening — especially if the infected person suffers from liver disease, a weakened immune system, or diabetes. In addition, raw oysters have also been associated with foodborne pathogens such as E. coli and norovirus.
To help keep lovers safe this Valentine’s Day, the FDA provides some common myths regarding consuming raw oysters and facts that can help keep you safe:
Myth: Eating raw oysters are safe if you drown them in hot sauce, which kills everything.
Fact: The active ingredients in hot sauce have no effect on harmful bacteria. Nothing but prolonged exposure to heat at a high enough temperature will kill bacteria.
Myth: Alcohol kills harmful bacteria.
Fact: Alcohol may kill your good judgment, but it doesn’t destroy harmful bacteria in the food you eat while drinking it.
Myth: Avoid oysters from polluted waters and you’ll be fine.
Fact: Vibrio vulnificus in oysters has nothing to do with pollution. Rather these bacteria thrive naturally in warm coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, where oysters live.
Myth: An experienced oyster lover can tell a good oyster from a bad one.
Fact: Vibrio vulnificus can’t be seen, smelled, or even tasted. Don’t rely on your senses to determine if an oyster is safe — or any other food is free of bacteria or other pathogens.
For these reasons, the FDA recommends that oysters be cooked to a temperature of 194°F for a minimum of 90 seconds. But since poking a thermometer into a batch of oysters isn’t always all that practical, they offer some other tips as well:
- Put the unshucked oysters into a pot of boiling water, keep cooking them three to four minutes after the shells open. Discard any that don’t open.
- If you’re cooking shucked oysters, boil or simmer them for at least three minutes, or until the edges curl.
- Fry shucked oysters at 375°F for at least three minutes.
- Broil shucked oysters three inches away from the heat for three minutes.
- Bake shucked oysters at 450°F for 10 minutes.
- Barbecuing oysters just until they open will not kill Vibrio bacteria, so keep them on the grill for several more minutes after they open.
- Shucked oysters should keep in the refrigerator for up to two days and in a freezer for up to three months.
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