2 deaths in Florida linked to raw oysters from Louisiana

A restaurant customer in Fort Lauderdale has died of a bacterial infection after eating raw oysters. In the same month, a person from Pensacola died in a similar manner. Both cases involved oysters from Louisiana.

Gary Oriel, who manages the Rustic Inn, told the South Florida SunSentinel that the man who died worked years ago at a restaurant famous for garlic crabs.

“Over the course of 60 years, we’ve served two billion oysters, and this man has never gotten sick,” Oriel said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that Vibrio bacteria do not make an oyster look, smell or taste different. About 80,000 people in the US get vibriosis each year, and about 100 die from it, the agency said.

Oriel told the newspaper that inspectors from the Florida Department of Health checked the restaurant’s kitchen and list of oysters the day after the man became ill.

“We passed with flying colors and were allowed to continue selling oysters,” he said, adding that the oysters currently being served are from Louisiana. “If there was a problem with the oyster bed, we would have known because other people would get sick.”

There is a sign warning patrons in restaurants about the risks of eating raw shellfish.

“Oysters are on top of the mountain to eat dangerous foods,” Oriel said. “I’ve eaten them all my life, and will continue to do so. But you’re putting yourself at risk when you do.”

The Florida Department of Health says 26 people have been infected with the bacteria so far this year, and six of them later died from eating raw shellfish, including oysters. Of the 34 people who became ill in 2021, 10 people died. Of the 36 people who became ill in 2020, there were seven deaths.

Last week, a man in Pensacola died from exposure to bacteria from market-bought oysters, reports the Pensacola News Journal. Officials said that oyster also came from Louisiana.

University of West Florida professor Robert “Wes” Farr told the newspaper that bacterial infections in oysters and raw seafood are common in the summer months, when water temperatures are warmer.

“Serious infection is rare, but the risk is still there,” Farr said.

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