A man is dead after contracting a bacterial infection from eating a raw oyster at the Rustic Inn Crabhouse in Fort Lauderdale, according to the Sun Sentinel.
The manager of the restaurant, Gary Oreal, declined to talk on camera Wednesday but told NBC 6 that the man who died had worked at the restaurant 20 years ago and had recently stopped by to eat with his family. He also said they had not heard of any other customer becoming sick after eating oysters there.
Oreal also told the Sun Sentinel the restaurant served as many as 100 dozen oysters at the time, and the man was the only person who became sick.
“He had that one in a billion that was bad,” Oreal told the Sun Sentinel. “I feel horrible.”
The man's death was traced to the bacteria, vibrio vulnificus, which is typically found in raw or undercooked seafood, like oysters.
The Florida Department of Health in Broward confirmed to NBC 6 on Wednesday that it was investigating the death of a person involving the bacteria.
The health department did not confirm to NBC 6 how the person got the infection, but records show that last month, inspectors visited the Rustic Inn Crabhouse in Fort Lauderdale after someone ate raw oysters there and became sick. The inspection noted the person had been to the restaurant on July 20. A complaint was filed with the health department eight days later.
Oreal told the Sun Sentinel the inspectors went to look at the kitchen and examined the oyster inventory the day after the man was hospitalized, but they passed with flying colors and were allowed to continue to sell oysters.
Neither the restaurant nor the health department identified the man who died.
Oreal told the Sun Sentinel that the oysters that are now being served are from Louisiana, so if there were to be a problem they would know because other patrons would have gotten sick as well.
“Oysters are top of the mountain for dangerous foods to eat,” Oreal told the Sun Sentinel. “I have eaten them my entire life, and will continue. But you are putting yourself at risk when you do it.”
According to the Florida Department of Health website, there have been 26 cases in 2022 of people in Florida who have been infected with the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus. Six of them became ill and later died.
A man in Pensacola died after contracting bacteria from oysters he bought at a market, the Pensacola News Journal reported. Those oysters also came from Louisiana.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an oyster containing Vibrio will not look, smell or taste different from other oysters and that this may happen more often from May to October when water temperatures are warmer.
“Vibrio vulnificus is a problem that we’ve had for years,” said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, a professor of epidemiology at Florida International University. “It is a bacteria that occurs naturally in saltwater or brackish water.”
Dr. Trepka said anytime you eat raw or undercooked seafood, you run the risk of infection.
“That’s why when you go to the restaurant, there’s often a little message on the menu saying raw, undercooked seafood can be dangerous,” she said. “It absolutely can be dangerous. I think people just forget about that.”
The health department’s inspection at the Rustic Inn found oyster-specific consumer advisory requirements were not posted when an investigator stopped by in late July. The manager of the restaurant told NBC 6 they had since posted additional signage throughout the restaurant warning customers of the dangers of eating raw oysters.
Dr. Trepka said vibrio infections are rare. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting or wound infections. She said those who are immunocompromised or who have a chronic liver condition are most at risk of severe infection.
The health department says if vibrio vulnificus is suspected, treatment should be initiated immediately in order for the antibiotics to be most effective. The FDA has a Seafood Hotline at 1-800-332-4010. It offers information about the potential dangers of eating raw oysters.
The CDC estimates that about 80,000 people get vibriosis and about 100 people die from it in the U.S. every year.
According to the Sun Sentinel, anywhere from 500 to 1000 people a day dine at the Fort Lauderdale landmark seafood restaurant this time of the year.
“Over the course of 60 years, we have served a couple billion oysters and we never had anyone get sick like this guy did,” Oreal told the newspaper.