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Seafarers Use Tech to Fight Vibrio

Vibrio is a serious, often lethal bacteria. Naturally making its home in coastal and brackish waters where salt and river water mix, it can be an utter killjoy to beach-goers, fishermen, and seafood lovers trying to enjoy a summer meal. But just because the bacteria is dangerous and often deadly doesn’t mean people aren’t making attempts to battle it! A Miami, Florida-area company just recently spent over $4.6 million in order to buy a high pressure processing machine designed to kill pathogens in its fresh, non-pasteurized crab meats. Literally, to fight vibrio.

Some Information on Vibrio

There are many different types of vibrio bacteria that are able to cause infection, and many of these infections that they cause have the potential to kill. However, vibriosis is most often caused by vibrio parahaemolyticus, vibrio vulnificus, and vibrio alginolyticus. Vibrio are present in much higher concentrations during the warmer months between May and October because vibrio thrive in warmer waters, and it causes an estimated 80,000 infections every year in the United States, 64,000 of which occur during the months of May and October.

Diagnosis can be difficult, as vibriosis is typically not a commonly reported illness.  This is because this bacterium is not covered in routine laboratory testing. Therefore, this illness often requires additional investigation to appropriately diagnose.  Either the healthcare provider or the patient must consider this as a possible cause of illness.  This means there needs to be a prompting to test for it. It often requires a patient to identify the additional risk factor of consuming raw or undercooked seafood for the clinician to consider ordering the test or for the clinician to link watery diarrhea to Vibrio.  Unless an outbreak has occurred, this might not be the first diagnosis a physician concludes is the cause of a patient’s illness.

Exposing opened wounds to vibrio contaminated water can result in severe skin and bloodstream infections. Additionally, shellfish are often very likely to be contaminated with this bacteria when fished from contaminated waters. Oysters are one of the most common carriers, and eating raw oysters is one of the most common ways of contracting vibriosis. The bacteria is insidious, and yet food contaminated with it looks, smells, and tastes completely normal. Those who are particularly vulnerable to the infection are those suffering from preexisting liver disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV, or thalasemia–as well as anyone taking medication to decrease stomach acid, or those who have had recent surgery.

While most authorities recommend avoiding contaminated waters and properly cooking all seafood in order to kill the bacteria, other technologies are being developed and used in order eliminate vibrio.

High Pressure Processing

High Pressure Processing, or HPP, is “a cold pasteurization technique by which products, already sealed in its final package, are introduced into a vessel and subjected to a high level of isostatic pressure (300-600MPa/43,500-87,000psi) transmitted by water.”

According to experts, “Pressures above 400 MPa / 58,000 psi at cold (+ 4ºC to 10ºC) or ambient temperature inactivate the vegetative flora (bacteria, virus, yeasts, moulds and parasites) present in food, extending the products shelf life importantly and guaranteeing food safety. High Pressure Processing respects the sensorial and nutritional properties of food, because of the absence of heat treatment, and maintains its original freshness throughout the shelf-life.”

The Florida company, Seafarers, obviously strongly believe in this kind of technology in order to invest such a sum of money!

Seafarers

An enormous HPP model 300 from the technology manufacturer, Hiperbaric, will enter Seafarers 18,000 square foot facility in September. This 54 foot long, 20 foot wide, eight food high machine is supposed to be ready for operation no later than October 1st, though it is likely to be usable much earlier than that.

The machine is intended to treat up to 14,000 pounds of crab meat daily, according to the Seafarer CEO, Willy Rosell. Rosell strategically added, “I didn’t buy this equipment to keep doing what we were doing,” meaning that Seafarers intends to use the new HPP machine to not only grow their crab meat sales but also increase its use of technology on their seafood products. This recent Seafarer investment may have had something to do with the outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus that was directly linked to Venezuelan blue crabs, which sickened at least 12 people across several states. The outbreak had multiple United States crab importers investigating the use of HPP machines, as well as many other pathogen-killing technologies.

According to its website, the company claims:

High Pressure Processing (HPP) is a cold pasteurization technique by which products, already sealed in its final package, are introduced into a vessel and subjected to a high level of isostatic pressure (300–600MPa/43,500-87,000psi) transmitted by water.

Pressures above 400 MPa / 58,000 psi at cold (+ 4ºC to 10ºC) or ambient temperature inactivate the vegetative flora (bacteria, virus, yeasts, moulds and parasites) present in food, extending the products shelf life importantly and guaranteeing food safety.

High Pressure Processing respects the sensorial and nutritional properties of food, because of the absence of heat treatment, and maintains its original freshness throughout the shelf-life.”

Conclusion

Vibrio is a bacteria that should be taken seriously. The fact that companies such as Seafarers and their like are looking into and investing in technology to help increase the safety of their food is a valuable thing to see in food production companies today. The cleaner we can get our foods and the more technology we can develop and use to remove pathogens and bacteria, the safer for consumers.

October 14, 2018
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Crab Vibrio Outbreak Over, But Warnings Remain

The Crab Vibrio Outbreak is over! You know an outbreak is bad when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as several other state and local partners, all get involved together to help investigate the situation. A multi-state outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus caused such a phenomenon. This outbreak is directly linked to fresh crab meat imported from Venezuela, contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which has caused a large number of illnesses, some of which The Lange Law Firm is respectfully representing.

Here are the latest updates!

Updates on the Investigation

September 27th of 2018 came with the unfortunate update of 26 official, laboratory-confirmed Vibrio parahaemolyticus cases, an infection caused by individuals who reportedly consumed fresh crab meat imported from the South American country, Venezuela. These multiple cases have been reported in seven separate states, as well as in the District of Columbia, leading to such a substantial catastrophe that warranted the attention of both the FDA and CDC.

According to the FDA’s recent update, the outbreak investigation is currently closed, though the administration recommends that that both consumers and restaurants seeking crab meat might want to navigate towards pasteurized crab meats, or fully cooked crab meat – that is, crab meat that has been brought to an internal temperature of 165°F at least. Consuming raw or undercooked crab meat puts one at a heightened risk of developing an infection. The FDA specifically warns against users intending to serve crab meat cold: pasteurized or fully cooked crab meat is specifically, professionally, and highly recommended.

Outbreak Over, But Warnings Continue

The FDA stated that, “Processors and distributors should know that the FDA’s Bacterial Analytical Manual (BAM) states that ‘A heat-processed product should not contain viable V. parahaemolyticus and if so, would indicate a significant problem in manufacturing practices or post-process contamination.’” While working with federal, state, and local officials regarding the outbreak, the FDA keenly discovered that the crab meat in question had been labeled as “fresh” or “pre-cooked,” meaning it was a ready-to-eat product, when the facts revealed that it was entirely contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus. According to the FDA,

Bacterial isolates from twelve cases have been analyzed through Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), a type of DNA testing that reveals the genetic makeup of an organism. Through this testing, it was confirmed that all twelve isolates analyzed are genetically related to each other. Nine people (36%) were hospitalized. Illnesses onsets ranged from April 1, 2018 to July 19, 2018.

Toxic Crab

Not only was the crab unsafe to eat, but it was utterly toxic and lead to over two dozen dangerous infections. As of July 13, 2018, the FDA formally advised consumers everywhere to completely avoid eating any fresh crab meat imported from Venezuela, since the risk of it being contaminated with the same bacteria was incredibly high. While the investigation is currently over, “The FDA collaborated with state partners in conducting a traceback investigation. This investigation identified multiple Venezuelan processors that supplied multiple brands of crab meat during the outbreak. FDA’s traceback did not identify a single firm as the source of the outbreak.”

Due to the severity of the outbreak, the FDA dutifully increased their testing measures on fresh crab meat, especially those imported from Venezuela, and have yet to discover another case of Vibrio parahaemolyticus in any samples of recently imported crab. That being said, they have identified Salmonella as well as Listeria monocytogenes in many samples of imported crab meat, but were successfully able to keep it from entering the states.

Testing Continues

Even though the investigation is complete, the outbreak is contained, and the FDA has increased their testing in imported crab, the FDA still recommends that consumers and restaurants remain cautions of fresh crab meats and maintain strict safety measures when handling, cooking, or serving crab for consumption.

Specific Instructions for Consumers and Restaurants

The Vibrio bacteria is a serious bacteria that, once ingested or absorbed through one’s bloodstream, can cause a serious internal infection that can result in diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, stomach pains, cramps, and more. According to the FDA,

Anyone who consumes raw or undercooked shellfish is at risk of contracting Vibrio parahaemolyticus; however, the product under investigation was a fresh, pre-cooked product that may be served chilled or lightly re-heated in various dishes. Children younger than five, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe infections.

Restaurants are specifically recommended to consider the utilization of pasteurized or completely cooked fresh crab meats, since crab meat can be the direct cause of many pathogens in a kitchen and can easily be the culprit in cross-contamination. Proper food handling is directly encouraged, such as restaurant workers washing their hands with soap and water, keeping fresh crab stored away from other food ingredients, and keeping all food contact surfaces, utensils, and appliances properly sanitized.

Instructions for Consumers

Private consumers of fresh crab meat are recommended to cook all crab meat to and internal temperature of 165°F or hotter. The same food safety techniques should come into play when handling fresh crab meat, keeping all raw foods from touching cooked foods and maintaining a clean food handling area.  When ordering any sort of shellfish at a restaurant, the FDA recommends that one request it be fully cooked unless otherwise treated. If one believes they might possibly have become ill from consuming contaminated crab meat, they should speak with their health care provider immediately.

Conclusion

If you or someone you know has become sick due to the consumption of contaminated shellfish – be it crab or any other meat of the sea – be sure to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Immediate care will not only serve to prevent your infection from worsening, but it could also save your life, especially with cases as severe as vibriosis. 48 million Americans are sickened by a foodborne pathogen every year, a shocking number that leads to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. If you are seeking a law firm to represent your food poisoning case, then please don’t hesitate to contact The Lange Law Firm.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

September 29, 2018
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Serving Up a Case of Vibrio

Imagine a calmly eaten dinner that results in the loss of a limb. No, I am not joking or fibbing. That was reality rather than fiction for this 71-year-old man who ended up having his entire hand amputated after a 2 inch wide blister formed after eating sushi at a restaurant. Yes, sushi. Those wonderful rolls of raw fish and rice we all know and love.

Read on to find out how this could possibly happen to even the most careful eater!

The Situation

A man that remains unnamed ended up visiting an emergency center in South Korea after having painfully suffered from an intense fever for over two days. He was struggling with “excruciating pain” in his left hand which began just twelve short hours after he had eaten raw seafood. The elderly man had a lengthy history of type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension, and was currently undergoing hemodialysis for end-stage renal disease, all of which lead him to be more susceptible to infection than normal.

When the man was admitted into the hospital, doctors were presented with a deep purple blister measuring 1.4 inches by 1.8 inches (3.5 centimeters by 4.5 centimeters). These hemorrhagic bullae spanned his entire hand, swelling “with confluent tense bullae and ecchymoses [which] had developed on the dorsum of the hand and forearm” according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

The surgical procedures were performed almost immediately, allow doctors to discover and isolate Vibrio vulnificus in the hand. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the patient received ceftazidime and ciprofloxacin in order to battle the wound. Vibrio vulnificus has the ability to cause severe skin infections after an open wound is exposed to contaminated water, though the infection is also able to be developed when the bacteria is consumed in contaminated raw or undercooked seafoods, which is what happened in this 71-year-old’s case.

Despite proper treatment, the skin lesions on the man’s hand progressed quickly toward deep necrotic ulcers which lead to the desperate need of an amputation. Doctors swiftly amputated the man’s entire left forearm, a procedure that was performed a mere 25 days after the presentation of the disease. After the surgery, the patient recovered well and was soon discharged.

More About Vibrio vulnificus

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “Patients with immunocompromising conditions, including chronic liver disease and cancer, are at increased risk for infection and complications.” While the man in South Korea was unfortunate to lose his limp, this infection is capable of taking lives.

The Vibrio bacteria is commonly found in coastal waters. Warmer temperatures resulting in warmer waters allow for the bacteria to thrive, so there is a much higher concentration of Vibrio bacteria found during the months between May and October. Well over 80% of vibrio infections manifest themselves during these warmer months. Of the many different forms of the bacteria, the most common species that cause the severe human illness, Vibriosis, are vibrio parahaemolyticus, vibrio vulnificus, and vibrio alginolyticus, with vibrio vulnificus being the leading culprit. Vibriosis can occur after a person has recently exposed an open wound to vibrio contaminated, brackish water, or consumed raw seafood contaminated with vibrio bacteria.

Approximately 65% of known cases are a direct result of one ingesting contaminated shellfish, with oysters taking the lead as the most common cause of the infection. As the New England Journal of Medicine pointed out, people with previously compromised immune systems tend to be especially susceptible to vibrosis. Those with chronic liver disease or other current infections need to be especially wary of brackish waters and raw seafood items. The elderly and children are also more susceptible to the illness than healthy adults, due to their weaker immune systems.

While most cases of vibriosis are fairly mild instances and can be cured after approximately 72 hours with generally no lasting or recurring effects, some instances can result in a loss of limbs or death. In the case of vibrio vulnificus, the more serious of vibrio infections, a person can become severely ill and need hospital care or limb amputation–such as was the case with the elderly man in South Korea. The death rates for vibrio vulnificus are about one in every four, and deaths usually occur within a few short days of the onset of the infection.

Symptoms of vibriosis are often non-bloody or bloody diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, limb pain, vomiting, headaches, fever, worsening skin lesions, hallucinations, and a bloodstream infection. If you or someone close to you is suffering from any or all of these symptoms after recently eating raw or undercooked shellfish or exposure to warm coastal waters, contact your doctor immediately and have your symptoms diagnosed.

The FDA Debunks Oyster Myths

There are several myths about oysters and foodborne illness. According to the FDA’s website, here are some of the most common myths and the truths behind them:

MYTH: Eating raw oysters are safe if you drown them in hot sauce, which kills everything.

Fact: The active ingredients in hot sauce have no more effect on harmful bacteria than plain water. Nothing but prolonged exposure to heat at a high enough temperature will kill bacteria.

MYTH: Avoid oysters from polluted waters and you’ll be fine.

Fact: Vibrio vulnificus in oysters has nothing to do with pollution. Rather these bacteria thrive naturally in warm coastal areas (such as the Gulf of Mexico) where oysters live.

MYTH: An experienced oyster lover can tell a good oyster from a bad one.

Fact: Vibrio vulnificus can’t be seen, smelled, or even tasted. Don’t rely on your senses to determine if an oyster is safe.

MYTH: Alcohol kills harmful bacteria.

Fact: Alcohol may impair your good judgment, but it doesn’t destroy harmful bacteria.”

Conclusion

Many people today thoroughly enjoy eating sushi, oysters, and other food items that include raw or undercooked seafoods items, and while these foods can be absolutely delicious, the risk factors they include can be quite intense. While most of your sushi restaurants and oyster menu items won’t result in you taking a trip to the hospital and leaving with one less limb, it’s important to understand that there can be many terrible bacteria found in raw seafoods.

Making sure that all of your fish and shellfish are properly cooked is one of the best ways to protect yourself against getting vibriosis from these types of meals. If you end up contracting any or all of the symptoms for a vibrio infection after eating seafood of any kind, however, it is incredibly important that you seek medical help. Don’t let these symptoms go on too long without properly addressing them or you might be putting yourself at an increased risk of amputation or death.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

September 15, 2018
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A Quick Diagnosis Could Save Your Life

I’m going to be honest…I kind of hate going to the doctor. There’s something about the waiting room in the lobby and the examination room behind those closed doors, where you wait, and wait, and wait, without ever being 100% sure what’s going on or what will happen next. I’m just not a fan of it. But think about it, does anyone actually like going to the doctor?

That being said, I still go! Why? Because health is important!

You go to the dentist in order to avoid dental issues or to find dental issues and fix them. You join a gym in order to avoid physical issues or to address the ones you already have. Similarly, to both of these things, you go to your doctor in order to avoid health issues or to get an early diagnosis on a current known (or unknown) health problem and get a prescribed solution. Our health is important and maintaining it can sometimes be difficult, but your healthcare provider is there to make your job easier. And believe it or not, sometimes an early diagnosis can mean a saved life! It can also reduce the risk of long-term complications or potentially the severity of a foodborne illness.

Why Visit the Doctor is a Good Idea

If I were to tell you that one visit to the doctor or hospital has countlessly been the key influencer of recovery and a saved life, would you believe it? You might start thinking of cancer cases where an early diagnosis can be the difference between life or death, but I want you to think of things even more common than that: Food poisoning and other bacterial infections.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 48 million people get sick from some sort of foodborne illness every year, which ultimately causes 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Researchers have accurately identified well over 250 foodborne diseases, most of which are some sort of infection that is caused by a variety of bacteria, virus, or parasite. Additionally, many harmful toxins and chemicals can cause foods to be contaminated to the point of resulting in foodborne illness.

The likelihood of you developing a food poisoning infection at some point in your life, or even multiple times in your life, is high. You need to understand how important a visit to your doctor is in the fight against such illnesses. Whether you habitually go to the doctor or if you avoid it like the plague, if you end up developing a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection symptoms, then scheduling an appointment as soon as possible is so important.

If you don’t agree, then see the following story to hopefully change your mind and your future decisions when it comes to food poisoning.

The Story of a Man and a Bacterium

Once upon a time, in our very real and sometimes shocking world, a man was harmlessly wade-fishing. The gentleman, at 47 years of age, was competing in a Port O’Connor fishing tournament a couple of years ago along with three of his friends. While none of them ended up winning the tournament, the man came away from the experience with an utterly changed life. His leg somehow became infected with vibrio vulnificus, which is commonly referred to as a flesh-eating bacteria.

Despite the fact that this careful fisherman cannot recall any sort of wound having been on his shin, which is how the skin infection starts and where his infection originated, he still developed the infection. Today, he clearly recalls inquiring from his friends if they remembered seeing him collide with something that might have scraped his skin and invited the bacteria, but even they came up with nothing to explain the resulting illness.

Like many bacterial infections, vibrio vulnificus takes a little while to become apparent, which is part of the reason it goes unchecked for extended periods of time. In the case of the fisherman, he went to bed after fishing without any change in his body, specifically his leg. There was no pain or swelling, until the morning arrived and he awoke to pain and swelling in his leg. After a little bit of research, the fisherman decided to seek medical attention in case the situation was worse than he might think.

He decided to be on the safe side, and this decision very likely saved his life. He decided to seek medical attention.

By the afternoon, the man was in extreme pain and could barely walk. He drove himself to the nearest emergency room and waited there for three hours before receiving antibiotics and pain medication. Just as they medical professionals were about to send him away, they received the results from his blood testing, and the fisherman was then admitted to a hospital for three weeks while eight surgeries were completed on his leg to save his life.

This fisherman was exposed to a bacterium, vibrio, and within 24 was in danger of losing his leg and his life. Had he not received medical attention as quickly as he did, then his chance for survival would have been practically nonexistent. Had it not been for medical intervention, he likely would not have survived.

Conclusion

While obviously not every bacterium is deadly and not every virus or pathogen will cause you to lose a limb, many are incredibly damaging and can cause you to have lasting scar tissue. There are countless many ways to contract infections, including eating many of your favorite foods, and while we certainly shouldn’t live in fear of these things, we need to be prepared for how to handle an infection should one result. Food poisoning illnesses are remarkably common and their symptoms are not overly difficult to identify. Being sure to respond to a food poisoning infection properly, by reporting it and receiving medical attention, does not only have the potential to save your life but also someone else’s.

As was the opinion of the fisherman, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

September 13, 2018
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How are Food Poisoning Outbreaks Investigated?

Public health and regulatory officials respond to foodborne disease outbreaks much the same way that police officers respond to crime. They must work swiftly, collecting as much helpful information in the smallest amount of time possible in order to take action that will prevent more people from getting affected. Their research must be quick and accurate, otherwise it ends up being entirely useless. While crime officials collect evidence such as DNA, timelines, and motives, health officials collect three things of data: epidemiologic, traceback, and food and environmental testing. The goal is to find the source of the outbreak and eliminate it.

Investigations into infections and illnesses are set-up to be prompt and swift. According to the handbook for investigations by the World Health Organization:

“Successful investigation and control of foodborne disease outbreaks depend on working fast and responsibly. When an outbreak occurs, all individuals involved in the investigation must clearly understand the course of action; time should not be lost in discussing policy matters that should have been resolved in advance.”

Reporting – The First (And Most Important) Step

Foodborne illnesses are severely underreported. Many people feel that their illness was just not severe enough to warrant going to the doctor or telling their local health department. This is concerning, as what may be a mild illness for one person, can be deadly for another. This is why reporting foodborne illnesses are so important.

Health agencies cannot determine if there is a foodborne illness outbreak until people report their illnesses. These reports are the “red flags” that prompt an investigation.

According to FoodSafety.gov, “When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne outbreak. Reporting illnesses to your local health department helps them identify potential outbreaks of foodborne disease. Public health officials investigate outbreaks to control them, so more people do not get sick in the outbreak, and to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future.”

The Data

When health officials assess the data, they are piecing together aspects of all parts in order to find the most likely source of the outbreak. They must take action as soon as possible, such as putting out a warning to the public when the information is clear about what foods have been contaminated and possible reasons for why. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here is how each data category is segregated:

Epidemiologic Data

  • Patterns in the geographic distribution of illnesses, the time periods when people got sick, and past outbreaks involving the same germ.
  • Foods or other exposures occurring more often in sick people than expected
  • Clusters of unrelated sick people who ate at the same restaurant, shopped at the same grocery store, or attended the same event.

Traceback Data:

  • A common point of contamination in the distribution chain, identified by reviewing records collected from restaurants and stores where sick people ate or shopped.
  • Findings of environmental assessments in food production facilities, farms, and restaurants identifying food safety risks.

Food and Environmental Testing Data:

  • The germ that caused illness found in a food item collected from a sick person’s home, a retail location, or in the food production environment
  • The same DNA fingerprint linking germs found in foods or production environments to germs found in sick people

The Process

Obviously, health officials can’t solve every single outbreak that occurs, as sometimes an outbreak surfaces and then dies before a satisfactory about of information can be reliably gathered to identify the disease’s source. The more officials investigate, however, the better equipped they are to handle and solve future outbreaks more efficiently.

The process for investigating foodborne illnesses is rather uncomplicated. Begins by detecting if there is an outbreak whatsoever, which can be detected using public health surveillance methods–such as formal or informal reports of food poisoning. It can be difficult to determine an outbreak since cases can be spread out across a wide area, but it’s vital to determine an outbreak early on in order to eliminate the source.

After this step, the next thing to do is define the size, timing, and severity of the outbreak. A case definition is developed in order to understand possible sources, and investigators use the case definition to search for more illnesses that fit the description. Illness are then “plotted on an epidemic curve (epi curve) so that public health officials can track when illnesses occur over time,” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The next step is to generate a hypothesis about the likely sources. Coming up with explanations for the outbreak is important, and these explanations are continually changed and edited, or entirely disapproved of, as more evidence about the outbreak is gathered. Interviews, surveys, questionnaires, and home visits are useful tools utilized to narrow down where, when, and how people got sick. Once the point of contamination is discovered, health officials can use their three types of data to solve the outbreak and help prevent it from occurring again.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “[this] work may lead to new research on how contamination can occur, or it may lead to outreach to industry and other food safety agency partners on new ways to prevent future outbreaks.”

Conclusion

Food poisoning is a serious situation that health officials work tirelessly to understand and prevent. Every food poisoning outbreak is, while unfortunate and terrible, an opportunity for more research to be done in order to prevent future outbreaks. It’s important to report instances of food poisoning appropriately in order to help this process move along quickly, efficiently, and appropriately. While health officials are highly trained and capable of making a good deal of progress, your assistance in the process could very well be key in a current or soon-to-be investigation. Understanding the system and doing your best to help it will only help to prevent future cases of foodborne illnesses.

Outbreak investigations make everyone and the food we eat safer. Outbreak investigations from 2011 – 2016 have already generated more than 900 recommendations for prevention activities, research, industry outreach, or process improvement.

 

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

August 16, 2018
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This is Why It’s Important to Report Food Poisoning! Seriously.

Picture ordering your favorite sandwich at your favorite deli downtown. Imagine eating it, feeling content, and then going about the remainder of your day—only to wake up in the middle of the night a few hours later with unbearable flu-like symptoms: fever, nausea, vomiting, aching, sweating, diarrhea, etc. Urgh, you have food poisoning.

Then you remember that the same thing happened to your coworker two cubicles down, only she didn’t report it. But she thought her illness was mild. Yours may be related, but it was much worse. Will you report yours? Maybe, just maybe, someone else got sick at the same place and had a more severe illness than yours.

How Serious Is Food Poisoning?

It can be very serious, and sometimes even deadly. No one likes flu-like symptoms. No one likes eating food they like and then vomiting it up hours later. The truth of the matter is, however, that food poisoning affects one out of every six Americans every year. The CDC estimated that over 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3000 people die every year from foodborne diseases in the United States.

Food poisoning is simply a broadened term that is used to describe an illness caused by foodborne pathogens. The contaminates range anywhere from bacteria to parasites to actual toxins, and can be spread by salmonella, E. coli, listeria, shigella botulism, campylobacter, and more. Salmonella poisonings is the most common form of food poisoning, causing up to 40 percent of foodborne illness cases and kill 33 people in 2012. Campylobacter—which is a type of bacteria spread through chicken, unpasteurized milk, and cheese, is quickly becoming more common, causing over 7000 cases of food poisoning in 2012. Vibrio infections that come from contaminated seafood (usually spread by warm sea water) are also dangerous.

Why Does Food Poisoning Happen—and What Happens Exactly?

The main reason that food poisoning occurs is because of poor food handling. Food poisoning bacteria can grow at any place along the food processing chain, from farm, to travel, to factory, to store, to table. Bacteria grows in circumstances where food is kept too warm for too long, or in unclean areas, or handled with unclean devices. Bacteria can form if foods are not properly packaged, if they’re packaged with the wrong foods, or if they’ve aged beyond usability.

Symptoms include many flu-like reactions, and they last anywhere from a few hours to an entire week. Generally, healthy adults with well-working immune systems are able to recover without any long-term side effects, many people end up hospitalized due to dehydration caused by vomiting, fever and excessive sweating, and not replenishing their liquids (3). Elderly people, adults with weak immune systems, and children run a very high risk of hospitalization, long term health determinates, or even death.

Benefits of Reporting Foodborne Illnesses

When two or more people get the same illness from consuming the same contaminated foods or drinks, it can be considered a foodborne outbreak. The amount of people who could be infected with the specific bacteria that you were infected with is innumerable. Reporting illnesses to your local health department helps them to identify and prevent additional outbreaks of foodborne diseases.

While obviously it can be difficult to identify the specific food that caused you such an illness since some food poisoning bacteria can take many hours or even days to develop symptoms, it’s still important to at least try to identify the cause. Even if hospitalization isn’t necessary, reporting the issue and giving officials a lead on their investigation is key to maintaining healthy foods. Try backtracking all the things you ate over the last few days, flagging anything different from the norm and identifying times where you could have consumed raw meats, undercooked meats, or other possibly contaminated foods. If you know someone who eats at the same downtown deli as you do and they contracted a similar illness as you, then that’s a good start.

How-To Report

As you have noticed, the vast majority of foodborne illnesses go unreported in the United States. This is why many states and local health agencies recommend reporting foodborne illness and related issues. Reporting foodborne illnesses does not only put these agencies on notice, but it also helps them detect potential outbreaks, advise companies to recall contaminated products, and develop methods of advanced notice or prevention of future outbreaks.

Not sure where to start? Not sure how to do the reporting?

The process is simple:

First, you can seek medical attention from your physician to obtain necessary testing for a diagnosis. This is helpful to find out what bacteria or virus made you sick and to obtain the medical care you need to get better. It is through a simple stool test that you can find out if your illness was caused by Salmonella, Campylobacter, Vibrio, or a myriad of other potential foodborne pathogens.

Second, you can encourage your physician to report your illness to your local health agency. Many pathogens, like E. coli, are required to be reported to the local and state health department. However, others may not be. It is always a good idea to encourage reporting.

Also, you can even report your illness yourself. It is usually a quick call to your local health department. In fact, some health departments, like Harris County, Texas’ health department, have launched smart phone applications to encourage and streamline the food poisoning reporting process.

Conclusion

No one likes food poisoning. It’s a terrible, miserable experience that most people wouldn’t wish upon anyone else. But based off statistics, it’s bound to happen, and there’s a 16 percent chance that it will happen to you at least once in a 365-day period. Make sure that if it does happen, you report the circumstance as soon as you possibly can so as to eliminate the possibility of it happening to someone else. A quick call, a visit to a website, or a simple click of your thumb on your smart phone could help stop an outbreak and even potentially save a life.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

August 8, 2018
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A Loss of Life and Limb

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vibriosis causes an estimated 100 deaths and 80,000 illnesses every year in the United States of America. In just this week alone, we have seen two hazardous cases that have utterly devastated lives. According to a recent news release, a person in Nueces County died after contracting a vibrio bacterial infection during a fishing trip off the Texas’ Gulf Coast, and another in New Jersey may soon lose his leg due to the same infection gained after a crab fishing trip. What is this deadly infection, how does it occur, and what can be done about it?

What is vibrio and vibriosis?

Vibrio bacteria tends to reside in coastal waters. Since warmer temperatures allow for the vibrio to thrive, there is a much higher concentration during the months between May and October. Over 80% of vibrio infections occur during these months. The most common species that cause the human illness, vibriosis, are vibrio parahaemolyticus, vibrio vulnificus, and vibrio alginolyticus, but approximately a dozen different species of vibrio are capable of causing the infection.

Symptoms of the infection generally occur after someone eats raw or undercooked shellfish, most commonly oysters, that are already contaminated with vibrio. About 65% of known cases are a result of eating contaminated shellfish. Another means of contracting vibrio is through skin infection which tends to occur when an open wound is exposed to brackish (a mixture of fresh and salt water, generally found where rivers meet the ocean or along the coast) or salt waters.  People with already-compromised immune systems tend to be especially susceptible to vibrosis, such as those with chronic liver disease or other current infections. The elderly and children are also more susceptible to the illness than healthy adults.

How serious is vibriosis?

In most cases, mild instances of vibriosis can be cured after approximately 72 hours, and they generally have no lasting or recurring effects. However, in the case of vibrio vulnificus, the more serious of vibrio infections, a person can become severely ill and be in need of hospital care or limb amputation–such as what could possibly be the case with the crab fisher in New Jersey. About one in every four people with vibrio vulnificus die, usually within a few days of the infection’s onset, such as the fisher in Nueces County, Texas.

Symptoms of vibriosis tend to be non-bloody or bloody diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, limb pain, vomiting, headaches, fever, worsening skin lesions, hallucinations, and a bloodstream infection. If you suffer from any of these symptoms after recently eating raw or undercooked shellfish or after exposure to warm coastal waters, contact your doctor immediately.

Who is at risk?

According to FoodSafety.gov, there are several groups of people who are at the highest risk for severe vibrio infections:

“Certain health conditions put people at high risk for serious illness or death from V. vulnificus infections. These conditions include:

  • Liver disease (from hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholism, or cancer)
  • Iron overload disease (hemochromatosis)
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer (including lymphomas, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease)
  • Stomach disorders
  • Any illness or medical treatment that weakens the body’s immune system, including HIV infection”

The FDA goes on to add:

“While not potentially life-threatening to most healthy people, symptoms of V. vulnificus infection may occur within 24 to 48 hours of ingestion and may include sudden chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shock and skin lesions. In people with certain medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes or liver disease death can occur within two days. Anyone showing signs of any these symptoms after eating raw oysters should seek medical attention immediately.

Certain health conditions put people at high risk for serious illness or death from V. vulnificus infections. Some of these health conditions may be present without any symptoms so people may not know they are at risk. Individuals should check with their doctors if they are unsure of their risk. Vibrio vulnificus infections in high-risk individuals have a 50 percent fatality rate.”

Texas and New Jersey Vibriosis Cases

Two recent cases of vibriosis cases might make one entirely wary of shellfish consumption, beach visits, and fishing adventures. According to the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District, an “elderly individual” was rushed to the hospital after experiencing some severe leg pains and other signs of bacterial infection. The individual is said to have had skin tears, allowing the contaminated vibrio waters to infect the bloodstream during a wade fishing trip. According to the health district, “Measures were taken to fight the infection, including amputation, but unfortunately the patient passed away within 24 to 36 hours of admission.”

In New Jersey, a 60-year-old man went crabbing in Maurice River, only to have a swollen leg and body pains the next day. He was rushed to urgent care where he was immediately administered antibiotics, but his symptoms got worse: leg sores, hallucinations, skin discoloration, and kidney failure. He was tested for and diagnosed with vibrio vulnificus. His daughter is quoted in the media to have said that the “choice is life or limbs, and I’ve heard that multiple times.” It is all too true as 15-30% of these cases turn out to be fatal.

Conclusion

Treating vibriosis symptoms as early as possible is so important in conquering the infection, whether or not you think you are in a high-risk category. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist, Dr. Rajal Mody, “Rapid treatment is really critical. If someone is eating raw oysters, especially in a high-risk group, or is swimming in the ocean and notices skin lesions that are worsening quickly, it is important to get early treatment.” While not all vibriosis cases are deadly, many of them can be, and many other symptoms and causes are entirely devastating. Be sure to tend to any and all appearing symptoms after recent exposure to ocean water or shellfish.

In short, if you are sick after eating raw shellfish or after swimming in the ocean, seek immediate medical attention. Early medical attention could help reduce the risk of loss of life or limbs.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

July 30, 2018
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Protecting Your Children From Foodborne Illness

It can be an absolute nightmare and heartbreak when one or more of your children gets sick. It’s particularly scary when the sickness is a result of the consumption of contaminated food. Parental guilt can strike, and that’s something most parents can’t quite take in stride.

None of my children ever experienced any kind of foodborne illness (also known commonly as food poisoning) when they were younger. I, on the other hand have, and it is an occurrence that I wouldn’t want to see anyone go through, especially when it comes to my beloved children. The symptoms of foodborne illness are wretched and can ravish a young child’s body. I can only imagine the anguish of witnessing it.

What to Look for if a Foodborne Illness is Suspected

The scenario can look something like this: your child begins to complain of having an upset stomach, followed shortly by severe cramps. These complaints could also be accompanied by a fever, usually around 101 degrees F. Then comes the sprints to the bathroom with diarrhea and/or vomiting (and you can only hope those sprints are successfully achieved). Be aware that the aforementioned symptoms may not occur simultaneously, and any one of them is cause for concern, especially if they seem to come out of nowhere. The symptoms can begin anywhere from as soon as an hour up to one week after eating contaminated food, and can vary according to the type of pathogen. Most importantly, if your child can’t hold liquids down without throwing up or is otherwise showing signs of dehydration, your immediate course of action should be to get him to the hospital for IV treatment to replace fluids and restore his electrolyte balance. Signs of dehydration include:

  • Dry or sticky-feeling mouth
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Not peeing very much
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Thirst (but not always)

Treatment for a Suspected Foodborne Illness in Children

With many types of foodborne illnesses, the symptoms usually resolve in a day or two. However, it’s still vital to treat the symptoms when they appear. Children, because they’re smaller, are more susceptible to dehydration, so providing your child with plenty of fluids is essential. Milk, caffeinated drinks, or carbonated drinks are to be avoided. Instead, provide drinks with electrolytes such as Pedialyte or Gatorade. For infants, you can give small amounts of what they normally ingest, either breast milk or formula. Older babies and children can consume water, ice chips, or popsicles.

It’s also helpful if your child:

  • Avoids food for the first few hours until the stomach settles down
  • Eats when they feel ready, but go slow — start with small amounts of bland, non-fatty foods such as crackers, dry cereal, toast, and rice
  • Gets plenty of rest

It’s also important to not give your child anti-diarrheal medication, unless specifically prescribed by your child’s doctor. This type of medication can exacerbate the length of the diarrhea.

Again, most symptoms improve within a day or possibly two; however, an immediate visit to a health care professional or hospital is in order if your child has not significantly improved in 24 hours if he or she has any of the following symptoms:

  • Blurry vision
  • Diarrhea and a fever above 101 degrees F
  • Bloody vomit or feces
  • Severe abdominal cramps that don’t resolve after pooping
  • Muscle weakness
  • Problems breathing
  • Consistent vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • Tingling in the arms

Prevention Goes a Long Way

Now that the ugly and scary information is concluded, there are steps that every parent or caregiver can practice in the way of being proactive in foodborne illness prevention. Approximately 48 million people contract a foodborne illness each year, and a great number of these are children. It cannot be understated of the importance of consistently and frequently washing your hands before, during, and after handling virtually every type of food product, and ensuring that your children do the same. Following these simple procedures while grocery shopping will also reduce exposure to the pathogens that can unsuspectedly lurk in food:

  • Separate foods that you purchase (raw meat, poultry and seafood) from other foods in your shopping cart as well as during checkout and in the bags you use to transport them.
  • Inspect cans and jars that you purchase, ensuring that they aren’t bulging or dented (a sign of possible contamination due to under-processing). Loose lids on jars can indicate that the vacuum seal is compromised. Don’t buy these kinds of products.
  • Inspect frozen foods. Check for signs of damage such as open, torn, or crushed at the edges. Look for signs of freezer burn (frost or ice crystals) that can mean the product has been stored for a very long time, or worse, thawed and refrozen.
  • Select frozen foods and perishable items as the last items on your list. Food such as raw meat, poultry, fish, and eggs should go in your cart last, and be sure to put them in separate plastic bags so they don’t drip onto other foods.
  • Carefully choose your eggs. Make sure that the eggs are clean, not cracked or broke. USDA grade eggs have to show the “pack date” on the carton: the day that the eggs were graded, washed, and packed. The pack date is also known as the Julian date, which means that each day of the year represents a chronological number, e.g. December 31st is expressed as 365, and January 1st would be 001. So, if your eggs are still within the expiration date or within 21 to 30 days after the pack date, you can be fairly sure they are still fresh. With the recent salmonella outbreak with eggs still “fresh” in our minds, it’s important to ensure the safety of the eggs you choose. Since salmonella can exist on egg shells, you need to wash the eggs. Salmonella can only be destroyed by thoroughly cooking the eggs.
  • Refrigerate perishable food promptly. These foods should never be left at room temperature more than two hours as nasty bacteria can multiply rapidly in this two-hour “danger zone.” The danger zone is defined as a range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

How You Store and Handle Food is Critical

For optimum and proactive food safety practices, follow the steps recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture:

  • Clean – Wash hands for at least 20 seconds in hot, soapy water before, during, and after handling food
  • Separate – Meat and poultry from each other and from produce. Make sure all utensils and surfaces are cleaned before and after food preparation.
  • Cook – All raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Ground beef, pork, lamb and veal requires an internal cooking temperature of 160 degrees F. Cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured by a food thermometer.
  • Chill – Refrigerate perishables promptly. When thawing meat, keep in original container or a plastic bag away from other perishables, and cook immediately after thawing (in the refrigerator).

For comprehensive and complete information regarding all types of foodborne pathogens and their resultant symptoms, please visit the FDA website: www.fda.gov.

By:  Kerry Bazany, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

July 23, 2018
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Vibrio in Oysters – Another Life Lost

While not everyone enjoys consuming this slippery delicacy, oysters are a high-end delicacy served in restaurants across the entire globe. It seems that people either love them or hate them, though we know surprisingly little about this tasty, slimy bivalve. We understand that chefs believe you are supposed to eat these mollusks raw, and for some reason this doesn’t result in thousands of cases of food poisoning. But is that the best idea? There are major risks.

Did you know that oysters can kill?

Deaths linked to oyster eating

A Sarasota, Florida ABC television station (WWSB) has reported that a 71-year-old gentlemen died after eating oysters at a local restaurant and contracting necrosis fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) as a result of his vibrio infection. The Florida Health Department informed the news station that the man ate the oyster at an unnamed restaurant on July 8th. Two days after this, he died.

In addition to these recent case, back in January, CBS News released an article detailing the events of another oyster related death in Dallas, Texas. According to this report, “Don’t eat raw oysters, period, ever…because you can for sure die.” This warning came about after a woman recently died due to similar flesh-eating bacteria contracted from eating oysters.

The woman and her friend had picked up a bag of raw oysters from their local seafood market one afternoon as a treat. They ate about two dozen of them raw before the woman became seriously ill. She had blisters on her legs and tongue, and her friend said it appeared to be an extremely bad allergic reaction. Doctors soon informed the woman that she had contracted vibrio, a potentially deadly infection. She continued to develop more wounds on her body from the flesh-eating bacteria, despite the doctors’ efforts to stabilize her. The woman’s health swiftly deteriorated, and she died 21 days later.

And these are only examples. There are over 100 deaths of vibrio infections per year in the United States. In some of the more severe cases, there were deaths and limb amputations due to the development of necrosis fasciitis.

What is the bacteria in oysters that kills?

It’s simple: Vibrio. The nasty bacteria, vibrio vulnificus, is found in warm brackish water (a mixture of fresh water and sea water, which is most commonly found where rivers meet ocean) and its victims usually end up suffering from a severely compromised immune system. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), vibrio vulnificus naturally resides in certain coastal waters and maintains higher concentration during the months of May through October–warmer months when the water remains at a higher temperature. The CDC has been quoted saying,

“Vibriosis causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses in the United States every year. People with vibriosis become infected by consuming raw or undercooked seafood or exposing a wound to seawater. Most infections occur from May through October when water temperatures are warmer.”

Vibrio vulnificus’ sister bacteria, Vibrio parahaemolyticus can be just as dangerous. Following Hurricane Katrina, 22 people were infected with Vibrio from contaminated waters, three of which were caused by V. parahaemolyticus, and two of these led to death.

What to look out for

The symptoms of infection of this dangerous bacterium include: watery diarrhea, which is usually paired with severe abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. Vibriosis (the illness that results from vibrio bacteria) generally manifests itself in individuals who have consumed raw or undercooked shellfish farmed in the contaminated waters–though, oysters are the most common culprit.

That being said, consumption is not the only way to contract the illness. Cuts or open wounds exposed to brackish water where the bacteria can be found are also susceptible to vibriosis. The CDC estimates that up to 80,000 illnesses occur each year in response to vibrio, and 52,000 of those cases involve some sort of contaminated food item. While most people recover after a few days, there are many documented cases that resulted in death and amputation of limbs.

Severe cases of vibriosis are those that involve vibrio vulnificus, which tends to assault the bloodstream and cause catastrophic infections. These cases tend to result in blistering skin lesions which have been known to require limb amputations in order to help the patient survive. It’s an aggressive bacterium that attacks the body inwardly, destroying the kidneys and infesting the bloodstream, wrecking bodies from the inside out. Most people, however, develop treatable food poisoning symptoms and soon recover. It seems to be those with compromised systems that are most at risk–such as the woman mentioned above, who had gastric bypass that affected her digestion. The CDC says that between fifteen and thirty percent of these cases result in death.

Prevention

If you swallow enough contaminated saltwater or eat shellfish that hasn’t been prepared properly, vibrio can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea. There’s another way for vibrio to enter the bloodstream. If you go swimming in salty or brackish water with an open wound, there’s a possibility that vibrio can slip past your body’s defenses and cause an ugly infection. The CDC recommends only eating thoroughly cooked shellfish and to avoid consuming any oysters that do not open during cooking.

Additionally, the health kits warn that oysters with Vibrio do not taste any different than those without. Therefore, both the CDC and FDA warn against eating raw oysters, noting that it is the only effective way to avoid contracting the illness.

Conclusion

The CDC states that people can become infected with vibrio after simply eating raw or undercooked shellfish (mainly oysters) or having open wounds exposed to brackish waters. While it can result in a terrible, festering, growing bacteria that assaults the bloodstream and immune system, destroying one’s body from the inside out, it normally isn’t deadly and usually just results in food poisoning symptoms. However, with such high risks of infection, it pays to be smart with food choices and what kind of waters you bathe wounds in.

End recommendation – cook the oyster first.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

July 19, 2018
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Vibrio Sickens At Least 12 in Maryland Linked to Crab.  How Does Vibrio Contaminate Shellfish?

Crab meat imported from Venezuela sickens at least 12 in Maryland with Vibrio infection, health officials say.  Four have been hospitalized so far and no deaths have been reported.  Interviews indicate those affected consumed fresh, non-pasteurized crab meats from a plastic tub prior to falling ill.  While the brands consumed may have different, the labels indicated meat imported from Venezuela.

The crab products of interest were prepared in both households and restaurants according to a Maryland Health Department news release.  Those affected report consuming dishes ranging from crab cakes, to seafood salad.  Even crab Benedict.

Symptoms of Vibrio include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, vomiting, nausea, fever, and chills.  Anyone exhibiting symptoms should seek medical attention.  While anyone cane become infected with vibriosis (the illness associated with vibrio infection), certain groups of people are at higher risk.  Those with a compromised immune system, especially those already suffering from chronic liver disease are more likely to fall ill.  Other activities can increase your risk of becoming infected.  Activities such as consuming raw seafood, particularly raw oysters are at higher risk.  Additionally, those with exposed open wounds exposed to brackish or salt water are at higher risk.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vibriosis is responsible for 80,000 illnesses and around 100 deaths each year in the United States.  Around 52,000 can be attributed to eating contaminated food.  The most reported species of vibrio is Vibrio parahaemolyticus, is estimated to cause 45,000 illnesses each year in the United States.

At this time, the health department is suggesting consumers avoid consuming crab meat from Venezuela until further notice.

Where Does Your Crab Come From?

The unfortunate truth is that while guidance indicates avoidance of Venezuelan crab, you may not know exactly where your food is coming from. According to Oceana, an ocean conservancy organization, as much as 33% of the seafood purchased in the United States is mislabeled.

While the product may be imported from anywhere around the world, the National Aquarium reports that under current laws, as long as the product is pasteurized in-state, it can be relabeled as “Maryland Crab Meat.”  This complicates about a third of the seafood purchased each year in the United States.

Personally, I will be avoiding all things crab until this situation is resolved.  Summer is in full swing, so raw shellfish and shellfish in general is a big “no no” according to old wives tales.

Months With the Letter R?

According to Old Wives Tales, or lore, or whatever you want to call it, shellfish should be consumed only in months with the letter R.  That essentially includes the months of September through April, cutting off just before May.

There is some truth behind every “lore” and this one is no different.  Though more caution should be considered.  Most cases of vibriosis occur during the warmer months.  Think May, June, July, and August.  All missing that prophetic letter “R”.

The warmer months of Summer are conducive to vibrio bacteria thriving, which increases during those non “R” months.  Vibrio bacteria are still present, but in potentially lower numbers.  The truth is that vibriosis can be caught at any time in the year.  Oysters, mussels, clam, and crab should always be approached with caution.  But why?

Why is Shellfish Risky?

There are many arguments for this high-risk food category.  Is it the Red Tide?  Does it have to do with the reproductive cycle?  How about how shellfish eat?  So many different takes on the same question.

Red Tide

Some point fingers at the infamous “Red Tide.”  Red Tide refers to a phenomenon where high concentrations of an algae changes the color of the water, giving it a red tint.  This generates algae at concentrations that are toxic to humans.  Consuming shellfish who have absorbed the toxin results in a condition known as “paralytic shellfish poisoning,” common enough to have its own acronym PSP.

Fortunately, red tide levels are closely monitored and harvesting during those periods is regulated and banned.  This is a known hazard, so shellfish are also regularly inspected and tested for this toxin.  Additionally, many shellfish such as oysters and mussels are farmed instead of wild harvested to decrease risk of contamination.

Reproductive Cycle

Another approach to the “R” rule involves the reproductive cycle of shellfish.  Many shellfish spawn during the summer months.  Some believe that this changes the taste and texture of the shellfish, which in turn deters consumption of the organisms during the rest time they need to repopulate.

Shellfish Eating Methods

Shellfish eat differently than you and me.  They don’t pull up to a table with a napkin on their lap.  They also eat differently than many fish.  They don’t open their mouths and catch their food.  Instead, shellfish are filter feeders.  They feed by filtering water into their bodies and retaining the nutrients to support their bodily functions.

The problem is that Vibrio bacteria, along with other bacteria, inhabit the coastal waters where shellfish live.  When someone consumes raw or undercooked shellfish, they are also consuming the viruses, bacteria, and pathogens that could be still inside the shellfish.  This is the biggest risk to human safety where shellfish consumption is concerned.

Filter Feeding Leaves Shellfish Vulnerable to Contamination

Filter feeders such as crabs and oysters can filter anywhere from 20 to 100 liters of their water environment per day.  They take in the surrounding water and hold onto small particles and organisms to feed themselves.  Harmful bacteria can often hitch a ride and hang out inside the crab.  In fact, the concentration of Vibrio inside a crab can be 100 times higher than concentrations found in the surrounding water.

This concentration leads to food contamination and illness.  In fact, Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus harvested during summer months could exceed 103 CFU/g and have even been found as high as 105 CFU/g.

When that number of pathogenic bacteria are consumed, particularly in raw or undercooked seafood, illness is likely.

A Word of Caution

Protect yourself and your family and NEVER consume raw or undercooked meat, especially seafood.  Avoid shellfish during the Summer months to reduce your risk.  And be sure to check out MakeFoodSafe.com for updates on outbreaks, recalls, and tips to help keep you and your family safe from foodborne infection.

Vibrio lawyer Jory Lange is one of the nation’s leading food poisoning lawyers. Mr. Lange has helped families from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest, from Florida to California, and in states across the nation.

If you or someone in your family tested positive for vibriosis and you would like to know more about your legal rights, call 833.330.3663 to get answers now.

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

July 17, 2018
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