San Diego County Issues Public Health Warning Following 41 Cases Of Norovirus Linked To Raw Oyster Consumption

January 11, 2024

Following our report published earlier this week, San Diego County health officials have linked 41 confirmed and probable cases  of norovirus  illness to raw  oysters  imported from Mexico. 

This past Sunday, we at SanDiegoVille published an article detailing complaints by multiple customers of The Fish Shop restaurants who claim to have fallen ill after consuming raw oysters. Today, San Diego County Health Department issued a warning about consuming raw shellfish.  

Cases to date have been tied to oysters served at three locations of The Fish Shop (Pacific Beach, Point Loma, and Encinitas) restaurants and the Carlsbad Aquafarm. Other locations may emerge during this investigation. These illnesses have been caused by norovirus, the leading cause of vomiting and diarrhea among people of all ages in the United States.   

The recent cases  of food-born sickness began  in  mid-December following dining on raw oysters from Sonora, Mexico. These implicated oysters have only been available through restaurants and wholesale locations. The  County Health and Human Services Agency  (HHSA) has asked restaurants to set aside "Rocky Point oysters" packed by GOLPAC located in Bahia Salina, Sonora, Mexico until further notice. Restaurants or others who purchased oysters from this location are asked to not use them while an investigation of this outbreak takes place.

The 41 people who got sick reported eating raw oysters a day or two in advance of symptoms. Cases range in age from 12  to  83 years old.  Symptoms reported included nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. None of the illnesses required hospitalization.  Several household members, including children, who did not eat the oysters have subsequently become ill likely due to spread within the home.

"The County recommends that people ask where oysters were harvested when eating out or getting food from wholesale locations to avoid consuming Rocky Point oysters from Bahia Salina, Sonora, Mexico," said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County Public Health Officer. "It’s also important for anyone who is sick to seek medical care. People who are ill, and those that live with them, should wash their hands frequently to avoid contaminating surfaces and foods that could further spread the infection."

Eating raw oysters has been linked to outbreaks with such germs as  Vibrio,  Shigella, and E. coli,  in addition to norovirus. If you eat raw or undercooked oysters, germs that might be in the oyster can make you sick.

People infected with norovirus generally develop nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, and body aches approximately 12 to 48 hours after consuming contaminated foods. The illness typically lasts for 1-3 days. The vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration requiring medical attention, especially in young children, older adults, and people with other illnesses. HHSA  is working  closely with California Department of Public Health,  including  the  Shellfish Program,  to continue  investigating  illnesses  associated with oysters. 

People who have or develop symptoms shoul d reach out to  their  health care  provider.  To report illness to the County after dining out or purchasing from wholesale food locations call 858.505.6814, or email [email protected]. More information  on  seafood and shellfish safety  is available here, general information on norovirus is here, and prevention of norovirus spread in the home information is here.

The Fish Shop has issued the below statement in response to Health Advisory and reports of food poisoning symptoms experienced by some guests who dined and consumed oysters:

"Fish Shop is unwavering in its commitment to food safety, and we have been actively collaborating with the Health Department and trusted suppliers to maintain the highest standards in safety and food handling. In light of recent events, we want to assure guests that we took immediate and comprehensive actions to address the matter at hand.

Following thorough investigations, including multiple inspections, it has been determined that oysters out of Bahia Salina, Sonora Mexico are the source of the reported illness. The San Diego Health Department has confirmed that all Fish Shop locations rigorously adhered to safety and food-handling protocols during service. Fish Shops and several operations in the region have been affected by this oysters supply. While this does not excuse any inconvenience caused, it emphasizes that this is an industry-wide concern, and we are collectively addressing it with the utmost urgency.

Earlier this week, all Fish Shop locations suspended the service of oysters from Bahia Salina, Sonora Mexico. Additionally, we are diligently monitoring all food supplies to ensure they consistently meet our stringent safety standards.

While we recognize that consuming raw seafood inherently carries risks, we want to underscore that Fish Shop takes foodborne illness very seriously. Our safety protocols exceed industry standards, reflecting our dedication to prioritizing the well-being of our guests above all else. We take great pride in providing the freshest and highest-quality seafood."