If 7 In 10 Oysters Have Norovirus, Should We Still Eat Them?

Our much-loved molluscs have had a bad rap in recent days, with government scientists claiming that seven out of 10 oysters sold may harbour the norovirus bug. But as David Jarrad, head of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain has pointed out, the tests are flawed. They identify the amount of norovirus in the water but do not differentiate between active and inactive viruses.

Our love affair with oysters is long-standing. At the turn of the 20th century, the oyster industry was one of the largest in the country. And for a good reason, oysters were cheap and nutritious. Overfishing led to them being restricted to high-end restaurants for most of the 20th century, but they have been having a renaissance.

The world now is our oyster – they are being served up at street food markets all around the UK, and you can even buy them at pubs and music festivals. So if you – like so many of us – enjoy tucking into a delicious, nutritious oyster, then fear not. You are more likely to catch norovirus in your local supermarket than you are from eating an oyster.

Of course, there is a risk from eating oysters – they are harvested from the wild, after all. But the oyster itself is not the culprit, rather the water in which it is raised. All the oysters sold in the UK are purified for 42 hours, which largely nullifies any danger. But to be completely safe, you can always cook oysters – or easier still, just zap them in a microwave, which would kill any residual traces of the virus.

So should we still be eating oysters? Of course, they are good for you, and tasty, too. The story reveals more about the public scandal of our polluted coastal waters than any perceived risk from eating oysters.

Credit: Drew Smith for The Guardian, 14 May 2018.