Driving on Interstate 10 east of Houston across the state line into Louisiana, you come across Lake Charles fairly quickly. Go south from there and you will begin skirting Calcasieu Lake.
Along the banks of lower Calcasieu Lake as you get closer to the Gulf of Mexico is Area 29, which is not even on the regular map of the state oyster growing areas. Those are located further east, south of New Orleans.
Area 29 is closed because it is suspected of being the source of the virus that made customers of the 42nd St. Oyster Bar in Raleigh, NC–some 1,200 miles away–ill. Hundreds of patrons of the 42nd St. Oyster Bar were sick in November and December last year in a suspected norovirus outbreak.
The investigation eventually led back down the road to Louisiana, which closed Area 29 at sunset Jan. 14th. It was another lesson in the market for shucked and half-shell Louisiana oysters.
Most Louisiana oysters are sold in New Orleans and other cities and towns on the Gulf. Mid-Atlantic states like North Carolina and those on the West Coast pick up most of the rest of the demand as oyster stocks in those areas are declining.
Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the state health officer, and Dr. M. Rony Francois, the No. 2 man in the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals, signed the closure order for Area 29. Louisiana’s Molluscan Shellfish Program is now evaluating the growing area and will reopen it when the oysters in Area 29 are determined to be safe to eat.
Local oyster harvesters that work the affected area and the Louisiana Oyster Task Force were told about the closure.
A short closure of one area after an outbreak is not likely to stir the sort of political reaction that the Louisiana’s shellfish industry mounted after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year tried to change the policy on processing raw oysters.
FDA wanted to reduce the naturally occurring bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, which can be fatal with new post harvesting rules. The federal government, however, had to pull back the changes due to the political opposition from the Gulf.