FDA wants summer months’ raw oysters treated

Published 3:11 am Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mississippi oyster dealers say consumers can expect prices to rise if the Food and Drug Administration goes ahead with a proposal to ban sales of raw oysters from the Gulf Coast during the warm months.

Estimates vary on how much the costs might go up for customers.

Jennifer Jenkins, of Crystal Seas Seafood in Pass Christian, believes oysters could go from the current market price of about 20 cents apiece to as much as 70 cents. Kidd thinks the current market price might double.

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Businesses, fishermen and the public in the Gulf of Mexico states are being urged to call their members of Congress and the White House to get the FDA to rescind its plan.

Earlier this month, the FDA said it planned to ban raw oysters beginning in 2011. The agency says raw oysters pose a health risk and that they should be sterilized before being sold.

Jenkins tells The Sun Herald that costs will increase and the quality will go down. She says some oystermen will have trouble finding places to get their catch processed because not many plants are using the FDA-endorsed measures.

At Crystal Seas Seafood, workers already quick freeze oysters on the half shell using carbon dioxide.

“It is a very good quality product, but it is not the same as eating a fresh, live oyster,” Jenkins said.

David Kidd, who owns the Lil’ Ray’s restaurant in Gulfport, said he had offered the processed version to his patrons once before, but they didn’t excite customers who were used to the more succulent raw Gulf oysters.

Kidd opposes the plan, saying many who know they are at risk for the rare sickness because of chronic health problems continue to dine on the half shell anyway. It’s government “meddling,” he said.

Dale Diaz, director of marine fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, says Mississippi fishermen don’t harvest a lot of oysters during the traditional summer months — June, July and August.

“But April, October and November are pretty big harvest months,” he said.

Diaz said that before the FDA plan was announced, MDMR was already considering requiring oysters caught during the warmer months to be refrigerated within two hours of being hauled into the boat, which he said would be much quicker than most are being refrigerated now.

MDMR also does many water-quality tests, he said.