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Hope on the Horizon for a Safe Raw Bar

January 1, 2012

Hope on the Horizon for a Safe Raw Bar


Raw Bar deliveries offer both delight and risk for anchored boaters

If you don’t enjoy raw oysters or clams, then you’ve at least been tempted to try some while cruising. Floating raw bars are notoriously available up and down the coasts, and boaters often enjoy these delicacies at anchor. Unfortunately, some of those taking part will inevitably become ill from a ubiquitous virus that was first discovered in Connecticut shellfish in 1977. Norwalk virus was initially associated only with raw oysters and clams, but soon became famous as a cause of illness aboard cruise ships. Now it is understood that Norwalk virus infection is a leading cause of foodborne illness in the US.

People contract Norwalk virus infection by swallowing food or water that has been contaminated from an infected person. Shellfish become contaminated via stool from sick food handlers, or when shellfish beds are exposed to raw sewage. Contaminated water, ice, eggs, salad ingredients, and ready-to-eat foods are all potential sources of infection.

The signs and symptoms of Norwalk Virus infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. The illness is usually limited to 2-3 days, however severe illness requiring hospitalization can occur.

The only way to avoid Norwalk virus related illness is to avoid raw or undercooked shellfish, to thoroughly wash all food during preparation, and to avoid restaurants or prepared meals…not easy to do. Many of us settle for avoiding raw shellfish.

For raw bar lovers, help may be on the way. Recent tests at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, reported in the December 8, 2011 New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that a new Norwalk virus vaccine:

  • Reduces the number of people who become ill by 20%
  • Reduces gastroenteritis (diarrhea and nausea) by half

The effectiveness of the vaccine, its duration of protection, the ideal dosage, the number of doses required, and other aspects of a practical vaccine are still being studied.

Until an effective Norwalk virus vaccine becomes available we recommend that readers understand the risks of eating raw shellfish. Up to 10% of commercial shellfish beds are reported to be infected with the virus, so the risk is significant. Thoroughly cooking shellfish destroys the virus. As for the risk of infection aboard cruise ships and in restaurants, we are left to rely on the consciences of kitchen chefs and managers, and to local departments of health, to keep us safe.

If you have questions regarding Norwalk virus you are invited to contact Dr. Stuart Hochron at (732) 636-6622, or visit his medical website at

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