Raw oysters linked to cross-border Norovirus outbreak

Oysters from British Columbia, Canada, have been linked to at least 326 cases of norovirus gastroenteritis since mid-January in four Canadian provinces and two US states.

Image courtesy of Public Health Agency of Canada

Norovirus cases linked to consumption of raw or lightly cooked oysters have been reported in British Columbia (262), Alberta (1), Saskatchewan (1), and Ontario (15), according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

On March 18, 2022, the BC Centre for Disease Control alerted restaurants and retail establishments in the province to “reports of norovirus illness associated with the consumption of raw and lightly cooked oysters,” adding that the province was investigating the illness reports.

The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed 29 outbreak cases. All twenty-nine victims became ill after eating raw oysters at Travail Kitchen in Robbinsdale, MN on March 20. The oysters served were Stellar Bay Gold oysters harvested on March 10 from Deep Bay 14-8 CLF #1407063 in British Columbia, Canada.

Eighteen residents of Washington reported norovirus-like illness after eating BC oysters from harvest area BC 14-8 since March 7, 2022, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

On February 18, 2022, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced the first in a series of recalls of raw oysters harvested from “Subarea 14-8.” This harvest subarea is located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, and facing the west coast of Denman Island.

Additional recalls were issued through March 2022, expanding the recall to an additional subharvest area (14-15) and to multiple harvest and processing dates.

Consult the following individual recall notices for additional details on harvest dates, lot codes and product distribution.

The outbreak and product traceback investigations are ongoing, and there may be additional recalls. Follow eFoodAlert to stay informed.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is a common cause of gastrointestinal illness, and is highly contagious. It can be transmitted by eating a contaminated food, or by touching a contaminated surface and then handling food without washing your hands.

Norovirus symptoms can begin as soon as 12 hours after exposure to the virus, and usually consist of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramps. In most cases, the illness is of short duration, lasting just a day or two.

Although the symptoms are of relatively short duration and are self-limiting, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, young children and the elderly are at risk for developing more serious complications, like dehydration.

PHAC recommends:

  • Do not eat, use, sell, or serve the recalled oysters. 
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked oysters to reduce your risk of foodborne illness and follow proper food handling practices. 
  • Cook oysters to an internal temperature of 90° Celsius (194° Fahrenheit) for a minimum of 90 seconds.
  • Discard any oysters that did not open while cooking.
  • Eat oysters right away after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.
  • Always keep raw and cooked oysters separate to avoid cross-contamination. 
  • Do not use the same plate or utensils for raw and cooked shellfish, and wash counters and utensils with soap and warm water after preparation.
  • Wash your hands well with soap before and after handling any food. Be sure to clean and sanitize cutting boards, counters, knives and other utensils after preparing raw foods.

If you develop symptoms of norovirus

  • Thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces, and disinfect using chlorine bleach, especially after an episode of illness.
  • After vomiting or diarrhea, immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus (use hot water and soap).
  • If you have been diagnosed with norovirus illness or any other gastrointestinal illness, do not prepare food or pour drinks for other people while you have symptoms, and for the first 48 hours after you recover.

Find more information on the risks associated with eating raw and undercooked food in TAINTED. From Farm Gate to Dinner Plate, Fifty Years of Food Safety Failures, available in digital, print and audiobook editions.

TAINTED formats 3
“Reads like a true crime novel” – Food Safety News

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