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Vibrio bacteria are common and occur naturally in marine environments. They are unrelated to pollution. Most do not cause illness. The two types of Vibrio of most concern to seafood consumers are:
• Vibrio parahaemolyticus (V.p.) found along all U.S. coasts during certain times of year, particularly in warm summer months in some raw mollusks – oysters, mussels and clams.
• Vibrio vulnificus (V.v.) a species found in coastal waters around the U.S., particularly the Gulf of Mexico in warmer months of the year.
• V.p., when ingested through consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish, can cause gastrointestinal illness within 24 hours. Illness may last up to three days, but more severe cases are rare.
• V.v. does not typically affect healthy people but can cause illness in high-risk individuals, including those with liver disease and weakened immune systems.
• To increase the safety of shellfish the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state health departments manage an inspection system called the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP). NSSP regulates shellfish growing areas, the care and handling of shellfish, and requires harvesters and dealers to be licensed and certified.
• In 2005, the FDA approved irradiation as an additional post-harvest treatment to enhance the safety of shellfish products. Other treatments include quick freezing, low heat pasteurization, and high pressure processing. These treatments eliminate or reduce Vibrio to safe levels.
• Consumers can avoid Vibrio-related illness by following current advice. At-risk consumers should enjoy shellfish cooked or specially processed and avoid other raw animal proteins. When purchasing shellfish:
• Verify that shellfish is from an approved source,
• Make sure shellfish is stored under proper refrigeration or ice and,
• If you are bringing it home, refrigerate raw shellfish immediately and keep it refrigerated until eaten.
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