Problems on the Half Shell - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Problems on the Half Shell

September 29, 2006

Albany - After two women died after eating raw oysters in Chatham County, you may be nervous about eating oysters on the half shell yourself. People with weakened immune systems should shy away from raw oysters. And even healthy people should know when to say NO to the shellfish.

"The colder it gets, the more we start shucking," says Rod Jackson.  Okay, it may not be cold yet, but SeptembeR has an "R" in it, and for oyster lovers who swear by the "R" rule, it's the beginning of oyster eating season.

"Used to be, you don't eat them unless it has an "R" in the month."  But Jackson, who's worked at White's Oyster bar for about 10 years, says that's an old wives tell. "Since we have refrigeration, you can eat them all year round."

Chuck Ward likes that news, because he loves oysters.  He says, "I've eaten them raw, fried, baked, oysters Rockefeller, anyway you can think of and I'll continue to do so." Today, he had raw oysters. Two dozen of them. He heard about the deaths associated with the raw oysters in Chatham County, but isn't worried.  Ward says, "I do think they take very good care. There always cold, they always smell fresh here, they always look fresh, and certainly, they taste pretty good here, so."

Looking fresh is one thing, but owner Bill White says there's more to keeping oysters safe than presentation. "We don't have no problems."

He's required to keep a record of exactly where he receives his oysters from for three months. He gets most of his from Apalachicola. One of the shipments, that resulted in the death of a woman in Chatham county was from Galveston, Texas. Investigators are still trying to track down the other shipment.  White says, "I hope they find out where they come from. We have to keep our tags for three months, that comes off those oysters. So if something happens they come and check all your oysters and tags and make sure they're right."

He also says making sure the oysters aren't in a bacteria breeding environment is important. "The secret is keeping an oyster good and cold. We don't shuck 'em ahead of time, we shuck 'em when you order them."

But the only way to make sure you won't get sick, is have your oysters cooked or to not eat them at all. Both of the women who died in Chatham county had weakened immune systems.

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