The state Department of Public Health warned consumers Friday not to eat oysters from West Marin's Drakes Bay Oyster Co., the largest oyster producer in the state.

Three illnesses have been linked to raw oysters from the Inverness-area grower, which shut down its operations after being notified by the health department Wednesday morning that its raw oysters may be contaminated with a bacterium that can cause serious illness, according to manager Ginny Cummings.

The oyster farm, which supplies about 40 percent of California's shellfish, has begun a voluntary, precautionary recall of its in-shell and shucked oysters.

"As a family business, we're doing the best we can do under the circumstances, which is a waiting game at this point," Cummings said. "We're working hand-in-hand with the health department on this. Our biggest concern is that people are healthy."

The company, situated in the Point Reyes National Seashore, expects to be closed until at least next Friday while its oysters are being tested. The company employs about 30 full-time workers.

Cummings said three people got sick after eating in separate San Francisco restaurants on July 21. No other illnesses have been reported since then.

The shucked oysters are packaged under the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm label and sold in 9-ounce, 1-pint, 1-quart and half-gallon jars or tubs. The shucked oysters are labeled with lot numbers 363 through 421. The lot number can be found


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on the top label of each jar or tub.

The in-shell raw oysters are sold individually or in bags ranging in size from one dozen to 10 dozen. In-shell raw oyster tags are marked with harvest dates ranging from July 17 through Aug. 8. The department advises consumers who bought these oysters to throw them away immediately. A complete list of the recalled products and photos of the shellfish tags and labeling is on the department of public health website: www.cdph.ca.gov.

The bacterium, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, naturally inhabits coastal waters in the United States and Canada and is present in higher concentrations during summer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of the bacterial infection include vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache, fever and chills. Most infected people recover without treatment in a few days, according to the health department. Severe illness and death is rare, but can occur in people who have chronic liver disease, cancer or other conditions that weaken the immune system.

The health department urges anyone who sees Drakes Bay Oyster Co. oysters being offered for sale to call its complaint line at 800-495-3232.

Contact Paul Liberatore via email at liberatore@marinij.com ------ (c)2012 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com Distributed by MCT Information Services