You won't be eating raw live Gulf oysters in the summer anymore if a promised FDA ban takes effect. At the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference meeting in New Hampshire on Saturday, an FDA official announced that as of 2011, the agency would no longer allow fresh, live oysters from the Gulf to be sold between May and October. The ban is intended to reduce illnesses and deaths from vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that thrives in Gulf waters during the warm summer months. Sales of post-harvest treated raw Gulf oysters, which are rendered harmless by freezing, or pasteurization, will still be allowed.
In 2003, California banned the sale of untreated Gulf oysters during the summer months. Prior to the ban, 40 deaths in California were attributed to Gulf oysters harvested in warm-weather months in the ten-year period between 1991 and 2001. Since the ban, no deaths have occurred. The success of the California experiment inspired the national ban. The industry has failed repeatedly to come up with its own plan to reduce deaths and illnesses related to vibrio.
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Gulf oysters are at their peak in mid-winter. The public oyster season in Texas is open from November to April.