Virginia is considering new rules to ensure contaminated oysters from the Chesapeake Bay are not shipped out of the state in response to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) crackdown on oysters.  Under the new rules, if contaminated oysters are shipped out of the state, the entire oyster industry could face closure.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is looking to tighten oversight to ensure harvesters store oysters on ice.

“These measures are intended to further improve safe handling and to show the FDA that Virginia takes this issue seriously,” John M.R. Bull said in an e-mail to a national wire service on Wednesday. “The state’s oysters and clams are tasty, clean, and safe.”  If a contaminated oyster sold by Virginia seafood suppliers is found by the FDA, the agency could prohibit Virginia oyster growers from shipping raw oysters outside state lines.  

The Virginia shellfish industry has a “sterling reputation”, according to a spokesman for the commission.

About fifteen people die each year in the United States after eating raw oysters infected with Vibrio vulnificus.  The number of deaths from contaminated oysters is small when compared with the annual estimates of 5,000 U.S. deaths from foodborne illnesses.  

Vibrio vulnificus is typically found in warm and salty coastal waters between April and October.

Only one death has been linked to Virginia waters since 2000 said Robert Croonenberghs, director of the state Health Department’s shellfish sanitation division.  

Maryanne Guichard, Washington State Department of Health’s manager of the Shellfish and Water Protection Program told Food Safety News, “Washington State doesn’t have this type of problem because we don’t have this type of species of Vibrio as of now.  It’s a problem in the gulf and warm water; it tends to have a high mortality rate.” 

In May, when Virginia waters are considered warm enough to warrant concern about contamination, commissioners will consider the proposed rules.