Oysters and Tea Leaves / Regulating Colon Health

By Richard Pelz
THE CHESAPEAKE

Are oyster water regulators in bed with the pro-biotic companies? Probably not but they may as well be. Maryland Regulators are restricting public access to healthy oysters containing pro-biotics. So if you want pro-biotics in the near term; you will have to buy a colon health product, in a bottle, from a pharmaceutical company. Maryland’s Regulators won’t let you have them in your oysters.
Health officials across the country were red faced when their test showed high levels of Fecal coliform in restaurant iced tea across the nation. Because it was totally untrue. Everyone knows there are good and bad bacteria. But the importance of identifying the difference has been difficult for some regulators in Maryland to grasp.
Technically speaking regulators collect samples of stuff and send them to a laboratory for testing. They also tell the lab what test to use. The laboratory runs the test and tells them “this is what we found”. The regulators then look at their charts and decide how to act. But what if the test is just plain wrong or does not go far enough?
This is what happened in the Iced Tea panic of 1995 and to those who dared to serve it. A test called the “Total fecal coliform test” was performed on restaurant iced tea. It showed really high numbers of bacteria. Nobody wants that in their tea! Would you?
The problem with the FC test is that it lumps lots of different kinds of bacteria together. The good the bad and the ugly. But it does not do what it’s name implies. It does not just find fecal coliform. What it did find was bacteria normally found on plants. A more definitive test can be used to rule out plant bacteria. It was not used until after Restaurants were cited and reputations besmirched.
What the test actually found was that people making iced tea used plant leaves. Surprise ! Surprise ! Tea leaves used to make iced tea!! What a concept. Leaves from a real plant! Now that is what I want in my tea.
So what is the connection to oysters. Regulators in Maryland test shellfish growing waters and have samples tested using… You guessed it the exact same Total Fecal Coliform Test. Their laboratory told them they had really high counts of Fecal Coliform bacteria in St. Thomas Creek. St. Thomas Creek watershed is heavily forested. That means lots of trees with yes leaves. Ignoring this minor detail, MDE officials read the lab numbers and acted. They shut down the oyster company growing oysters there. The entire year’s crop sits waiting for who knows what.
“The counts are too high to even allow relaying” they said. “It is a public health issue.” Relaying is the movement of Oysters from certain areas to clean water to flush them out prior to sale to consumers. But test for and exclude plant bacteria? What’s that?
Will you ever be permitted to eat these scrumptious oysters filled with wonderful flavored protein and yes a couple of pro-biotic plant bacteria to go along? Not so far. MDE officials have promised to “look into the issue”. “But it is going to take some time” To prevent getting red faced again, I think they should start by reading the tea leaves.