Many shellfish are filter-feeders, so they strain microbes from sea water throughout their lifetimes. This means that, over time, they can accumulate high concentrations of pathogens that were present in their environment. In particular, filter-feeder (especially oysters) have been found to carry a disease agent called Vibrio. Vibrio causes roughly 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the U.S. every year.
“As a food microbiologist, I’d like to eat raw oysters—I grew up eating them—but I don’t eat them anymore,” says McLandsborough. It’s hypothesized that the jump in vibrio infections may merely reflect better monitoring but warming seas are another potential cause.
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