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Cook Oysters and Clams with Care

(NOTE: The information on this page is a guideline only and should not be used as a basis for a medical diagnosis. Consult a doctor when necessary.

Some people relish eating raw oysters, clams and other molluscan shellfish. Others delight in swimming or wading in the ocean. Most run little risk of contracting a serious illness from those activities. But not all can enjoy consuming raw shellfish or playing in the ocean without concern. Why not?

Because a bacteria called vibrio vulnificus, found in some parts of the ocean and in some shellfish, can cause serious illness or even death in persons with any kind of health problem, especially those listed below:

  • Liver disease (hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholism, or cancer)
  • Iron overload disease (hemochromatosis)
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer (including lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkin's disease)
  • Stomach disorders
  • Weakened immune system (whether caused by illness or medical treatment)

Is there any easy way to tell which shellfish harbor the bacteria?

Unfortunately, no. Because vibrio vulnificus occurs naturally in warm coastal waters, eating oysters or clams harvested from approved waters does not reduce the risk of infection. Moreover, in appearance, taste and odor, infected shellfish cannot be distinguished from non-infected shellfish.

When should vibrio vulnificus infection be suspected?

Symptoms usually begin within 24-48 hours and may include the following:

  • Fever/chills
  • Skin lesions
  • Stomach pain/nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shock

Anyone who has any of these symptoms after eating raw oysters or clams should seek medical attention immediately. Since death in people at risk can occur within two days of infection, early, aggressive antibiotic treatment is the most effective therapy.

How can the risk of infection from vibrio vulnificus be reduced?

  • Never swim or wade in seawater when you have sores or open wounds
  • Eat oysters or clams that have been thoroughly cooked or that have been treated and labeled "Processed to reduce Vibrio vulnificus to non-detectable levels"

For more information, contact the following:

Oysters and Clams: Cooking Tips to Reduce Infection by Vibrio Vulnificus

In the shell:

  • Cook live oysters or clams in small pots so those in the middle are cooked thoroughly
  • BOILING: After the shells open, boil live oysters or clams for another 3-5 minutes
  • STEAMING: In a pot that is already steaming, cook live oysters or clams for another 4-9 minutes.

>Shucked oysters:

  • BOIL or SIMMER for at least 3 minutes or until edges curl
  • FRY at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 3 minutes
  • BROIL 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes
  • BAKE at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes


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