When Canada’s food safety agency announced a recall of B.C. oysters last August, it meant producers like Steve Pocock had to ensure every last oyster they had shipped after a certain date was accounted for.
Along with a recall – issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) after dozens of people got sick as a result of eating raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus – there was a ban on restaurants serving raw oysters from British Columbia.
The inconvenience and forgone sales added up to a big hit for Mr. Pocock and other producers in British Columbia’s oyster sector.
“The recall had a very serious impact on our industry – and it should be taken very seriously,” Mr. Pocock said in a recent interview. He owns and operates Sawmill Bay Shellfish and is also president of the BC Shellfish Grower’s Association.
“And I’m not just talking about the farmers; I’m talking about everyone right through to the server in the restaurant,” he added.
A workshop last November spawned a national working group focused on Vibrio with representatives from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and provincial health authorities.
That group developed a prevention program for Vibrio, focusing on education, enhanced testing and improved communication between producers and government agencies.
On the education front, workshops for producers emphasized measures to control Vibrio, such as proper refrigeration during transport.
Oysters represent a relatively small chunk of British Columbia’s aquaculture sales – $13-million, compared with $380.4-million for salmon, according to a 2015 report by British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture – but are prized for their taste and local appeal.
“Shellfish are an important part of our business, and especially in the summertime, when patios are open, [oysters] go great with wine and it was disappointing we were unable to offer B.C. product for raw consumption,” said Guy Dean, vice-president of seafood distributor Albion Fisheries.
Yeah, especially since Vibrio produces a toxin that attacks the weak livers of persistent wine drinkers.
Raw is risky.
And this Guy ain’t your buddy. Or friend.