State health department warns of shellfish hazards

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) announced that regional shellfish, while delicious, can also be potentially hazardous to people’s health, especially as the summer wears on and temperatures increase.

“Warm water can increase levels of naturally occurring bacteria such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp), which can grow in oysters and make people sick if the oysters are eaten raw,” according to a June 30 news release. “Cooking oysters kills the bacteria, making them safe to eat.”

The department warns that cooking oysters doesn’t mean all the hazards are eliminated.

“Cooking doesn’t eliminate a different kind of shellfish-related risk: the toxin responsible for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which can’t be cleaned or cooked out of shellfish,” the release indicates.

According to the department, PSP is “extremely dangerous when eaten” and there are no visual cues that the toxic condition exists in the animal.

There are a few tips the DOH shares with those who can’t resist oysters:

• Gather shellfish as soon as possible after the tide goes out

• Don’t harvest oysters that have been exposed to the sun for more than one hour

• Refrigerate or ice shellfish immediately

• Don’t use seawater to rinse shellfish, as the seawater can re-contaminate the animals

As the summer wears on, particularly through July and August, the occurrence of Vp in shellfish increases, according to the department. Symptoms of Vp may include diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, headache, vomiting, fever and chills. These symptoms usually show up 12 to 24 hours after the contaminated animal has been eaten, and can last between two and seven days.

PSP can cause a person to be “seriously ill” or can cause them to “even die,” according to the DOH.

For shellfish conditions, call (800) 562-5632 or visit


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