Most children aren't adventurous enough to slurp a raw oyster straight out of the shell, and this is probably good. Raw oysters can harbor bacteria and toxins that can be life-threatening to young children. Cooked oysters, however, are safe if they're handled and cooked properly, and they supply your child with a low-fat source of protein and other essential nutrients.
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Cooking Makes it Safe
Oysters are completely safe for children to consume, provided they're cooked properly and your child doesn't have an allergy to shellfish. The danger with raw or undercooked oysters is that they can be contaminated with bacteria or parasites that can make your child very ill. Cooking makes oysters safe by destroying these illness-causing organisms, according to SafeOysters.org.
Proper Handling, Storage and Cooking
When buying oysters, look at labels carefully. Only buy oysters that have a certification number on the package, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions. Before cooking, throw away any oysters that are broken or cracked. Tap each oyster and throw away any that don't close in response to your tapping, the FDA also recommends. Once the oysters are cooked, throw away those that didn't open. Store oysters that you don't plan to cook within two days in the freezer; otherwise, keep them in the refrigerator.
Properly cooked oysters supply your child with 9.5 grams of protein per oyster, and protein is essential during childhood because it aids in normal growth. Oysters also supply iron, a mineral necessary for red blood cell production. Oysters are also low in fat, with 2.3 grams per oyster, of which only 0.5 gram is saturated.
When It's Not Safe
Raw oysters can be contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, and consuming it can be life-threatening. The bacteria contaminates oysters that live in warm, coastal waters and is more dangerous to people with compromised immune systems and certain health problems, such as diabetes. Even one raw oyster can expose a child to the bacteria, so a quick taste isn't acceptable either. The only way to remove this hazard is to cook oysters before serving them to your child.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association: Pacific Oyster
- University of Georgia Marine Extension Service: Safely Eating Oysters and Other Molluscan Shellfish
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving it Safely
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Raw Oyster Myths
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Gulf Coast Oysters Unsafe (But Not For the Reason You Think)