Commercial Validation of Irradiation Technique Obtains FDA Approval
A new processing method effective against harmful bacteria will give raw oyster lovers new options — and provide a boost to Florida’s oyster industry as well.
Florida Sea Grant researchers have been working with industry partners in the Gulf of Mexico to develop the technical standards that commercial processors will need to use irradiation to reduce the incidence of Vibrio vulnificus in raw oysters.
Their research has shown that passing low doses of gamma rays through live oysters reduces Vibrio bacteria counts to non-detectable levels, meaning safer raw oyster products for consumers.
Based on the results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have accepted gamma irradiation as a valid post-harvest process.
Vibrio occurs naturally in seawater and oysters, but may be harmful to humans who eat oysters raw. It can potentially cause fever, diarrhea and even death in certain individuals with compromised immune systems.
According to Victor Garrido, who led the research for the University of Florida’s Aquatic Food Products Laboratory, what sets irradiation apart from other post-harvest processes validated by the FDA to kill vibrio is that irradiation preserves a live oyster. “It also does not alter the flavor and appearance of live, raw oysters, which we confirmed through consumer taste panels during the research,” Garrido said.
Irradiated oysters can be marketed as live oysters with a survival rate of approximately a week, or as in-shell oysters to prolong the commercial shelf-life up to 14 days, Garrido said.
| Related Content
Florida Sea Grant Seafood Safety
Be Oyster Aware
National Fisheries Institute About Seafood
The irradiation technique will also help oyster producers meet federally-required rates of illness reduction, and avoid consequences that threaten closure of Florida and Gulf of Mexico oyster operations during the warm-weather months when bacterial counts are more abundant.
“This historical development provides one additional option for industry and consumers to reduce potential risks,” said Garrido.
The validation trials were conducted in cooperation with Food Technology Service of Mulberry, Fla., the sole provider of food irradiation services in the state, and the first in the nation to treat raw oysters. The trials used actual oyster products with known bacterial loads and various packaging for product protection.
Partners include processing firms in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, and the Division of Aquaculture in the state’s department of agriculture.
For additional information, contact: