Food-borne illnesses do not discriminate — anyone can become sick — and raw oysters have earned a reputation as a potentially dangerous food. Also, some groups of people have a greater risk of serious illness than others, including children.
Eating raw oysters comes with the risk of being exposed to Vibrio vulnificus, a potentially life-threatening bacteria.
Young children, those under 5 years of age, are more susceptible to food-borne illness because their immunity isn’t fully developed. Here are some facts you should know before you give your young child raw oysters:
What will happen if my child eats a contaminated oyster?
In reality, allowing your child to eat raw oysters might have zero consequences, no matter how many he or she eats. Unlike other bacteria, V. vulnificus cannot be smelled, seen, or tasted. There is no way to determine if the raw oyster is safe to eat. V. vulnificus cannot be killed by a lot of hot sauce, nor are you guaranteed safety by letting your child just try one or two oysters.
If your child eats a raw oyster that is contaminated with V. vulnificus, it is important to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of food poisoning.
In generally healthy people, V. vulnificus can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In some cases, it can become worse and infect the blood (invasive septicemia) resulting in fever, chills, and septic shock. V. vulnificus is a serious cause for concern because about half of people who contract the blood infection die.
If you are suspicious of food poisoning and/or your child has symptoms, get in touch with your healthcare provider immediately, or even head to the ER.
What should I do?
To be safe, you may want to hold off on feeding your child raw oysters for a few years, or at least until he or she is five years of age.
If oysters are a staple in your household, or a special treat here and there, make sure to thoroughly cook a few for your little one to try. Cooking (prolonged exposure to high heat) is the only way to kill the bacteria and make sure you and your family will be safe.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
- Raw oysters can can carry the V. vulnificus pathogen.
- It cannot be smelled or seen.
- Symptoms include stomach distress, including vomiting and diarrhea.
- To be safe, withhold raw oysters until five years of age.