David W. Plunkett, a senior food safety attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said between April and November, about 30 Americans usually get seriously sick and abouot 15 will die after eating raw oysters or other shellfish contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.
The contaminated oysters are mainly harvested from the Gulf Coast region during the warmer summer months.
Plunkett said the FDA should act now, before the increase in Gulf Coast water temperatures creates a more hospitable environment for the naturally occurring, but deadly contaminant.
Raw or undercooked oysters are the primary Vibrio culprits. Symptoms include the classic signs of foodborne illness but for some consumers, but about half get more serious infections and die survive.
Those most at risk include consumers with diabetes, hemochromatosis, compromised immune symptoms or liver disease.
"Consumers have waited long enough," the center wrote in a letter to FDA that accompanied the petition. "In the nine years since FDA denied our original petition, 262 people have suffered serious illnesses including 121 people who died -- all of which could have been averted."