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Man dies after eating raw oyster at South Florida seafood restaurant

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 8/17/2022 Cindy Krischer Goodman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
The Rustic Inn Crabhouse at 4331 Anglers Ave. in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. © Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS The Rustic Inn Crabhouse at 4331 Anglers Ave. in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday.

A Florida man has died from a bacterial infection after eating a raw oyster at the famed Rustic Inn Crabhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

The death is the second in the state this month traced to the bacteria, Vibrio, found in an oyster.

Gary Oreal, manager of the Rustic Inn, said the South Florida man who died had worked at the restaurant about two decades ago. He had dined there in late July on a day the Rustic Inn served as many as 100 dozen oysters, and he was the only person who became sick.

“He had that one in a billion that was bad,” Oreal said. “I feel horrible.”

Oreal, whose father founded Rustic Inn in 1955, said inspectors from the Florida Department of Health came to look at the kitchen and examined the oyster inventory the day after the man became ill and was hospitalized.

“We passed with flying colors and we were allowed to continue to sell oysters,” he said.

Neither the restaurant nor the health department identified the man who died.

The oysters now being served are from Louisiana, Oreal said. “If there was a problem with the oyster bed we would know it because others would have gotten sick.”

The restaurant does display a sign warning patrons that consuming raw shellfish may increase the risk of foodborne illness.

“Oysters are top of the mountain for dangerous foods to eat,” Oreal said. “I have eaten them my entire life, and will continue. But you are putting yourself at risk when you do it.”

Indeed, the Florida Department of Health website shows 26 cases in 2022 of people in the state who have been infected with the bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus when they ate raw shellfish, particularly oysters. Six of the people who became ill later died.

In 2021, 10 people died out of the 34 people with the illness, and in 2020, seven of 36 who became ill later died.

Rustic Inn is now owned by a public company but continues to be operated by the family who founded it. Known for its garlic crabs, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people a day dine this time of the year at the Fort Lauderdale landmark seafood restaurant.

“Over the course of 60 years, we have served a couple billion oysters, and we never had anyone get sick like this guy did,” Oreal said.

Just last week, the Pensacola News Journal reported a man in the Pensacola community also had died from a bacterial infection from eating a raw oyster he had purchased at a market. The oyster also had come from Louisiana. A University of West Florida professor, Dr. Robert “Wes” Farr, told the news outlet that Vibrio infections linked to raw seafood and oysters are more common in the summer months.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, An oyster that contains Vibrio doesn’t look, smell, or taste different from any other oyster. The CDC estimates that about 80,000 people get vibriosis —and 100 people die from it — in the United States every year.

Most of these illnesses happen from May through October when water temperatures are warmer.

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at or Twitter @cindykgoodman.

©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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