Blue Point Oysters are a bottom-grown oyster, local to the oyster-growing regions of New York and Connecticut. Their home is Long Island's Great South Bay, which produces oysters famous for their sweet, briny, almost sparkling aftertaste. Like many other oysters, Blue Points are often served raw as an appetizer. The quality and taste of all oysters is very sensitive to the quality of the water in which they are grown.
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The Traditional Oyster Season
Oysters are traditionally eaten in months spelled with an “r”: September 1 to April 30. People have been eating oysters long before refrigeration existed and fresh shellfish spoil very quickly in the summer. Summer is also the time for the toxic plankton blooms known as red tides. Oysters feed themselves by filtering plankton from water, while people eat oysters (and clams and mussels) whole. If the shellfish eat toxic plankton, the person who eats them also eats toxic plankton. Oysters typically spawn in July and, as they near spawning, their texture and taste change.
Red tides are caused by overgrowth of several types of plankton, toxic and non-toxic. These algae blooms literally turn the water red to reddish-brown. However, not all red tides are toxic, while water that is not discolored can contain toxic levels of plankton. Also common during the summer months are outbreaks of vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that can sicken or kill people with weakened immune systems. Shellfish contaminated by toxic plankton or vibrio do not look, smell or taste any different from safe shellfish. If you harvest your own shellfish, pay very close attention to announcements and postings in the local media, your local board of health and fish and wildlife resources. Never harvest shellfish from a closed area.
Oysters in the Summer
Oysters sold in summer often were harvested earlier in the year and flash-frozen. However, even fresh oysters harvested and sold by local producers are safe to eat during the summer months. Shellfish toxins are very potent and are not destroyed by cooking (although vibrio can be), so stringent inspection programs are in place to ensure the safety of fish sold at market.
Play It Safe
If you eat oysters in the summer, purchase them from a commercial source or make absolutely, positively certain that the area you harvest them from is safe. If, following consumption of an oyster, your lips and tongue start tingling, you feel dizzy or nauseated, or develop a headache, suspect paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). If you develop an upset stomach, suspect vibrio. In either case, contact your doctor.