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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - nr-51-11 Tips For Oyster Roast

Marine Fisheries

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Release: Immediate
Contact: Patricia Smith
Phone: (252) 726-7021
Date: Oct. 20,  2011

Tips for a Healthy and Environmentally Responsible Oyster Roast


MOREHEAD CITY – Nothing says fall on the coast of North Carolina like the beginning of oyster season, when people pull out the fire grates and steamer pans, and get ready to slurp them down.

But those pearl of delights need to be properly stored and chilled to ensure a healthy eating experience. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries offers the following safety tips regarding oysters:

  • Only purchase oysters from licensed dealers. These dealers are inspected and required to keep oysters under refrigeration and keep sanitation records.
  • Once you have purchased oysters, keep them cold. Shell oysters need to be kept at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Thoroughly wash oysters prior to cooking. Remove all mud and dirt from the outside of the oyster, using a stiff brush and pressurized water.
  • Store oysters away from other contaminants. Oysters are living animals when you purchase them, so they can become contaminated by placing them on wet floors, splashing them with dirty water or dripping raw fish and other foods.
  • Prior to cooking or raw consumption, discard dead oysters. Dead oysters will have slightly gaping shells that will not close when tapped. Once cooked or roasted oyster shells will naturally open.
  • Those with compromised immune systems should fully cook all oysters before consumption. People with liver disease, alcoholism, diabetes, cancer, stomach or blood disorders or those on medication that weakens the immune system are at risk for a potentially serious or even fatal illness from the naturally occurring bacteria Vibrio vulnificus.

Of course, the consumer’s responsibility with oysters does not end with the roasting.

After eating oysters, take the shells to one of the division’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program drop-off centers. A list of public oyster shell recycling sites and restaurants that participate in the program can be found on the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website at http://www.ncfisheries.net/shellfish/recycle1.htm.

The Oyster Shell Recycling program returns the oyster, clam, conch and mussel shells to coastal waters where they will provide numerous benefits to the environment.

When oysters spawn, the larvae need a hard substrate on which to attach and grow. Oysters will attach to many kinds of surfaces, but they prefer shell material. Additionally, oysters clean pollutants from the water. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, and oyster reefs provide habitat for fish and other marine life.

For more information on the proper handling and chilling of shellfish, contact Patti Fowler, who works with the division’s Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality Section, at (252) 808-8147 or Patti.Fowler@ncdenr.gov.

For more information, contact N.C. Oyster Shell Recycling Coordinator Sabrina Varnam at (252) 726-7021 or (800) 682-2632 or Sabrina.Varnam@ncdenr.gov.
 

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • (252) 726-7021 or 1-800-682-2632

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