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The Lowcountry loves oysters, but raw ones can kill you. Here’s how to eat them safely

Cook the perfect steamed oyster with help from the Bluffton Oyster Co. owner

Larry Toomer, owner of the Bluffton Oyster Co., shares his tips for cooking the perfect steamed oyster during the Bluffton Oyster Roast on Saturday.
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Larry Toomer, owner of the Bluffton Oyster Co., shares his tips for cooking the perfect steamed oyster during the Bluffton Oyster Roast on Saturday.

Who doesn’t love a good oyster roast?

We are about halfway through the season, which means that there are a ton of roasts to attend.

Most of the oysters served at these roasts are grown and harvested from local waters, but some are imported from neighboring states such as Florida and Louisiana.

No matter where or how you decide to eat your oysters, it is important to remember that eating raw or undercooked shellfish can open you up to the risk of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

One of the infections you can get from eating raw or undercooked oysters is caused by a bacteria known as Vibrio.

Vibriosis causes roughly 800,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the U.S. every year.

Oysters that contain harmful bacteria don’t look, smell or taste different than other oysters and, according to the CDC, the only way to kill the bacteria is by cooking them properly.

“I’ve been doing this all my life and we’ve never had a case of anyone dying from eating an oyster,” Larry Toomer, owner of the Bluffton Oyster Co., said. “We know where our oysters came from because we harvest them, refrigerate them ourselves and then cook them shortly after.”

Toomer says that there is always a risk when consuming any raw food, but the oysters that are harvested off the coast of the Lowcountry typically don’t have bacteria due to the cleansing nature of the tidal waters they grow in.

The CDC recommends cooking oysters until they open, whether by boiling or steaming, and then continue to cook them for an additional few minutes depending on the method of cooking.

They also recommend disposing of any oysters that have opened before being cooked, as this is typically a sign that the oyster has died.

“Something will always be somebody’s last meal,” Toomer says. “If your immune system is not up to snuff you shouldn’t eat anything raw, whether that is an oyster, or burger or any other type of meat, but something is going to set you off if you’re already sick. But other than that, we shouldn’t worry too much.”

Delayna Earley: 843-706-8151

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