The ramifications of climate change can be felt in many aspects of the food world—and it turns out, oysters aren't the exception. According to a new study, rising global temperatures are linked to increased water-borne food poisoning and infections. In other words, eating raw oysters might get a lot more dangerous.
The number of confirmed infections from seafood-related bacteria in the U.S. have risen every year since the 1990s, according to Canada's CBC News. These bacteria, also known as vibrio, are associated with tainted water and undercooked seafood, and can cause a variety of health issues, from food poisoning to cholera. After the number of these confirmed infections rose an average of 390 per year in the late '90s, recently that number has skyrocketed to an average of 1,030 more infections annually. These bacterial outbreaks result in about 100 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Scientist Rita Colwell, who was the former head of the National Science Foundation, studied this rise in vibrio infections with her team at the University of Maryland. Their findings, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that warmer water means higher levels of vibrio-related illnesses. Heat waves in recent years—particularly 1994, 1997, 2003, 2006, and 2010—all caused sharp rises in illnesses as a result of swimming. Now, Colwell and her team are pointing to climate change as the culprit for these increases in bacteria. "Now we have linked very directly the increase and the trend in a number of cases," Colwell says of their study, which utilized a 50-year plankton database, water temperatures, and disease reports to come to their conclusion.
Though the study area included Europe and North America, the United States was the focal point of the vibrio outbreaks. The authors even noted that in Alaska—where outbreaks of the disease were formally unheard of due to their cold bodies of water—temperature changes have lead to cases of people getting sick from consuming oysters that contained the water-borne bacteria.
The next time you're heading out to oyster happy hour, consider taking public transportation.