Vibrio vulnificus produces serious illnesses that are commonly associated with shellfish consumption, particularly raw oysters. Ingestion can result in fatal septicemia in susceptible individuals with hepatitis, cirrhosis, immune dysfunction, diabetes, or hemochromatosis (metabolic iron overload). Therefore, postharvest treatments to reduce vibrio levels in oysters have been recommended. In this study, rapid chilling by immersion of unwashed whole oysters in ice for 3 h was assessed as a postharvest treatment for reduction of V. vulnificus. Treated oysters were subsequently refrigerated at 45°F (7.2°C), whereas control oysters were not iced but were maintained at 45°F throughout the study. Homogenized meats were monitored for total heterotrophic aerobic bacteria, V. vulnificus, and fecal coliform content before and after treatment over a 2-week period. V. vulnificus was enumerated by DNA probe hybridization of colonies from standard plate counts on nonselective medium, and recovery was compared for several media. Loss of plating efficiency was observed on standard selective and differential media compared with nonselective agars. Numbers of V. vulnificus generally declined in treated samples compared with controls; however, increases in total heterotrophic bacteria and fecal coliforms were also observed in treated samples at some time points. This study does not support the use of ice immersion as a postharvest method because of the relatively small declines in V. vulnificus numbers and the possibility of concomitant increases in fecal coliform and total bacterial contamination.

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Author notes

Contribution from the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, journal series number R10772.