Man dies after eating oyster at Lauderdale seafood restaurant


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

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 man who died had worked at the restaurant about two decades ago. He had dined there earlier this month on a day the Rustic Inn served as many as 100 dozen oysters and was the only person who became sick.

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

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 boxes 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.

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In 2021, 10 people died out of the 34 cases of 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 1000 people a day dine at the Fort Lauderdale landmark seafood restaurant this time of the year.

“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 warmer 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. Tea 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 cgoodman@sunsentinel.com or Twitter @cindykgoodman.

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