US shellfish industry celebrates FDA decision on oyster petition

A United States shellfish growers group has praised the Food and Drug Administration’s decision not to further regulate the raw oyster industry.

In May, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., demanding the FDA act on the organization’s four-year-old petition to regulate deadly bacteria in shellfish harvested in Gulf Coast waters and sold for raw consumption.

However, the FDA recently denied the petition, stating that both shellfish growers and the agency have made significant progress on reducing illnesses and deaths related to Vibrio vulnificus (V. vulnificus).

“Combining the revised ISSC [Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference] V. vulnificus control plan with our increased oversight….we have seen a significant reduction in oyster-associated V. vulnificus illnesses,” wrote Nega Beru, director of the Office of Food Safety at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in the letter to CSPI.

During 2013, 2014 and 2015, the shellfish industry increased compliance with state-mandated time-to-temperatures control measures, according to FDA.

“These efforts resulted in a greater than 30 percent reduction in illnesses reported nationwide, and as much as a 40 percent reduction in deaths for 2013 and 2014 – 22 illnesses were reported each year and 10 and 9 deaths, respectively,” Beru wrote.

Shellfish growers were relieved by FDA’s decision.

“We were very worried about it. It had the potential to cripple our industry,” said Bob Rheault, executive director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. The standard proposed by CSPI “would put us out of business for months and months of the year. Vibrios are present in many of our growing areas for many months of the year,” he said.

Shellfish growers have made a “complete, dramatic overhaul” to curb the threat of potential Vibrio illnesses, Rheault said.

“We have radically overhauled our harvesting regulations. We have invested millions of dollar in new equipment, ice machines, trucks and coolers. And, we went from 10 hours of refrigeration to two hours or less,” he said. “We have turned the corner and we have seen good results from these investments. We are very proud of this industry and the way we have stepped up to address the challenges.”


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