Is it Safe?
SHOULD YOU EAT RAW SHELLFISH?
The FDA recommends that individuals whose immune systems are compromised or are taking medications which could suppress the immune system do not eat raw or partially cooked molluscan shellfish.
We have taken every possible precaution to ensure that Glidden Point cultured oysters, raw or cooked, are safe for consumption by healthy individuals. We lease state tested and approved growing areas, submit shellfish and water samples for regular testing, maintain and operate a state inspected HACCP certified facility, and utilize best management practices for harvesting and handling techniques. Additionally, many pathogens commonly associated with shellfish-related illnesses are less likely to thrive in the frigid waters of our growing areas, giving Maine waters an inherent margin of safety.
However, any animal consumed raw or partially cooked carries a higher potential for causing illness than food that is thoroughly cooked. We concur with FDA recommendations that people with compromised immune systems should not eat raw or undercooked shellfish, because their bodies are more susceptible to becoming ill from low levels of bacteria or viruses naturally present in the shellfish which would not otherwise be harmful to healthy persons.
Immune compromised individuals include those with liver disease, including cirrhosis, hemochromatosis and disease caused by chronic alcohol abuse; diabetes mellitus; immune disorders including infection with the AIDS virus; cancer and reduced immunity due to steroid or immunosuppressant therapy; and gastrointestinal disorders, including previous gastric surgery and low gastric acid (for example, from antacid use or achlorhydria). People unsure of their medical status should consult with their physician before consuming raw or partially cooked shellfish.
Contact the FDA Seafood Hotline (800-FDA-4010; 202-205-4314) for more information on raw shellfish and related matters.
WHAT IS RED TIDE?
Shellfish lovers living or vacationing in a coastal area should understand and be knowledgable about ‘Red Tide.’ Red tide is actually a ‘bloom’ or population explosion of certain types of dinoflagellates, microscopic planktonic organisms which can contain toxic compounds. Shellfish (including clams, mussels and oysters) which are filter feeders in the areas of these dinoflagellate blooms can accumulate dangerously high concentrations of the toxin in their tissues. The shellfish themselves are unharmed by the toxin, and do not look, taste, or smell any differently than usual.
If people or animals ingest shellfish containing the toxin, however, they can become very ill and even die from Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). The toxin is particularly dangerous because it will not be eliminated by cooking. All shellfish producing states have monitoring programs for PSP, which involve regular sampling and testing of shellfish along the coast. Upon determining that Shellfish are nearing the tolerance level for concentrations of the toxin, affected coastal areas are posted and closed for a time until further monitoring and sampling indicate that the shellfish are again safe for human consumption. Check with your state for information specific to their Red Tide closure protocol.
SYMPTOMS OF PSP
PSP acts quickly. The onset of symptoms will typically be within 30 minutes of ingestion, and can including tingling in the lips, face, neck and extremities, headache, dizziness, nausea, vertigo, muscular paralysis, gasping, difficulty breathing and respiratory failure. If you think you are exhibiting any of these symptoms and that it could be PSP related, DON’T WASTE TIME WAITING! Call 911 to seek emergency care immediately and tell them of your suspicions.
The State of Maine Department of Marine Resources performs rigorous statewide monitoring for red tide, and maintains a toll free Red Tide Hotline with daily updates for shellfish harvesters, dealers, and the general public!
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM PSP?
BE WELL INFORMED! Waters affected by red tide don’t always appear red in color. If the dinoflagellate is in high enough concentration, the water may appear red or brown for a period of time, but don’t assume that water which is not tinted reddish-brown is safe! Shellfish may harbor high concentrations of the PSP toxin, even if the water appears clear or ‘normal’.
Buy shellfish from reputable sources and don’t be afraid to ask about red tide or about where and when the shellfish were harvested. In Maine, call the Shellfish Sanitation Hotline (800-232-4733) to check on the status of red tide closures and pollution related closures for your area before you harvest your own clams or mussels.
Call the State of Maine Red Tide Hotline at 1-800-232-4733 for a list of current closures or click here.
It is a common misconception that oysters and other types of shellfish are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Oysters are an excellent low fat, low calorie source of many essential dietary nutrients. A serving of 6-8 medium oysters (3.5 oz. or 100g.) contains only 69 calories and 55 mg. of cholesterol, well within the 300 mg. daily cholesterol intake level recommended by most major health organizations.
WILD VS. CULTURED OYSTERS
The top shell of a wild oyster is no different than that of a cultured oyster, flat and smooth. The bottom shell of a wild oyster has a noticeable scar at the narrow hinged end, where the oyster had been attached to a rock, stick, ledge, shell or other substrate.
A wild Oyster will often have a more fluted, wavy shell with more ridges than it’s cultured cousin. This is due to more variability in daily and seasonal growth patterns. Wild oysters are subject to wider ranges and higher frequencies of temperature fluctuation, resulting in irregular growth and a shell with ‘character’.
Cultured oysters are held in conditions which limit extreme temperature fluctuations in order to maximize growth. The goal of an oyster aquaculturist is to produce oysters with similar growth rates, shell characteristics, and sizes, creating consistency in the marketplace and visual appeal, as well as operational efficiency. As a result of rapid, consistent growth rates, many of the ridges and wrinkles present in a wild oyster never have a chance to form in a cultured one.
Cultured oysters also lack the scar that marks the point of attachment of a wild oyster to it’s cultch. When larval oysters are ready to metamorphose and become bottom-dwelling shelled creatures, they locate a substrate or ‘cultch’ to attach to, then proceed to grow a shell and transform into benthic organisms. Wild Oysters will ‘set’ on whatever substrate is available in the natural environment, usually rocks, shells or other oysters. When larval cultured oysters grown in the controlled environment of a shellfish hatchery are ready to set, the substrate available to them is usually very small pieces of ground up shell hash. The ‘cultch’ becomes indistinguishable from the oyster’s own shell, producing a ‘cultchless’ oyster with no scar from the point of attachment. A cultchless shell is the primary distinguishing characteristic differentiating a cultured from a wild oyster.
In the state of Maine it is illegal for anyone to possess a cultchless oyster without a permit or receipt proving that the cultchless oysters were purchased from a permitted grower or legitimate source.