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Are Raw Oysters Safe to Eat?

Posted in Our Blog on July 7, 2024

Raw oysters are a cult classic. Either you love them or hate them. Those that love them have strong feelings. Those that hate them have equally strong feelings.

But are they safe to eat?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that is a big no!

Raw oysters, like most raw foods, carry risks of foodborne bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other nasties that can make you sick. However, there is one method that can render raw oysters safe to consume. But you are going to pay for it. Few oyster processors use this patented process, increasing the price for processed, raw oysters.

Here’s why eating those briny, slimy, oysters raw is a bad idea.

Oysters Are Filter Feeders

Oysters are filter feeders. They consume food by sucking water into their bodies, filtering out what they eat, and releasing the excess back into the water.

And they are really good at it.

A single, mature oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day!

That is a huge job for a little bivalve!

In fact, some water remediation companies use oysters to clean up polluted areas because they are more efficient than some alternative industrial processes.

Unfortunately, the reason they make great vacuum cleaners of the sea, also contributes to their risk factors.

You may have noticed that an East Coast oyster tastes a little different from a Pacific Coast oyster. This is because they tend to take on the characteristics of their environment. They hold onto certain minerals.

They also hold onto potential pathogens in the water.

Consuming them raw does not provide a way to kill those pathogens. This leads to foodborne illness.

Consuming Raw Oysters Can Lead to Illness

Certain bacteria and viruses are a part of the ecosystem shared with oysters. The harvesting process and supply chain activities also contribute to pathogen exposure.

Pathogens like Salmonella, norovirus, Listeria, hepatitis A, and other bad bugs can be present in raw oysters. Consuming them can make you sick.

The most famous pathogen associated with raw oysters is Vibrio vulnificus.

Vibrio vulnificus in Raw Oysters

One particular dangerous bacterium often paired in the news with raw oysters is Vibrio vulnificus.

While Vibrio vulnificus infections are overall relatively rare (about 150 to 200 cases annually), infections can be very serious.

20% of people exposed to Vibrio vulnificus die from infection

Around 20% of those exposed to Vibrio vulnificus, either by consuming raw oysters or swimming in contaminated waters, die from their infection.

In addition to exposure by consumption, handling raw oysters incurs certain risks.

Exposure Risk Not Limited to Consumption

If contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, exposure risk is not limited to consumption. Handling raw oysters can also lead to different serious symptoms.

Cut, scrape, or abrasion on the skin are vulnerable to Vibrio vulnificus infection. It can cause necrosis – death of tissue. This is why Vibrio vulnificus is often referred to as flesh-eating bacteria.

Certain Groups of People Are at Greater Risk

While anyone consuming or handling raw oysters is at risk of infection, certain groups of people are at greater risk of infection if exposed and more serious illness if infected.

Those who are pregnant, the elderly, and people with a compromised immune system are advised to avoid raw and undercooked seafood. Including raw oysters.

New Technology Makes Raw Oysters Safer

A new technology known as “The AmeriPure Process” offers a simple “warm and cold water treatment” that reduces the presences of harmful Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacterial contamination. This AmeriPure Process effectively pasteurizes oysters while still leaving them raw.

How it Works

First, AmeriPure oysters must be harvested from waters that meet certain strict criteria. The National Sanitation Program (NSSP) is the source for these restrictions.

Then, live oysters are pressure-washed to remove the natural grit and debris from their shells to clean them.

Next, they are processed. The oysters are culled by seasoned professionals, graded for size, and individually banded.

Now, here is where the magic happens. The oysters are placed in a warm water bath let to a temperature calibrated to kill harmful bacteria like Vibrio. Following this heat treatment, raw oysters are transferred to an ice-cold shock bath to stop the transfer of heat and prevent “cooking.”

The AmeriPure process allows oysters to remain in their natural liquor, and raw, yet clean.

Common alternative methods involve high pressurization, depuration, and/or chemicals.

Cooked Oysters Are Always the Safer Choice

Fried, grilled or Rockefeller, cooked oysters are always the safer choice. Particularly if you are unable to obtain AmeriPure processed oysters.

Tips For Cooking Shellfish Safely

Prior to cooking shellfish, be sure to inspect each one. Discard shellfish with open shells. This is an indication that the shellfish have already died and may not be safe to eat. When encountering an open shell, gently tap the edge of the shell. If it closes, it is safe to use. If it remains open, toss it.

Cooking Shellfish in the Shell

When cooking shellfish in the shell, you have two options.


The first involves boiling until the shells open. Set a timer and boil for another 3 to 5 minutes.


When steaming shellfish, get the water to a steaming temperature. Add shellfish to a steamer basket and cook for 4 to 9 minutes.

Discard any shellfish that do not open fully after cooking.

Cooking Shucked Oysters


Boil oysters for at least 3 minutes.


Fry in oil for at least 3 minutes at 375° F.


Broil 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes.


Bake at 450° F for 10 minutes.

Cook to a Safe Internal Temperature

As always, whatever your method of cooking, be sure that you are getting your food to a safe internal temperature. For seafood and shellfish, the FDA recommends an internal temperature of 145° F. Use a instant read food thermometer for best results.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like Are Raw Oysters Safe to Eat, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)