Jul 14, 2006

Corporate hospitality at Eden Park during last month’s All Black test against Ireland has left a bad taste in the mouth.

Dozens of people became violently ill with a type of gastro-enteritis known as norovirus after eating raw oysters and an official report has now confirmed that the culprit was imported Korean oysters.

The defrosted oysters were masquerading as being fresh from New Zealand but the Korean type are never meant to be eaten raw.

Many became violently ill with a norovirus after eating the raw oysters and some were sick for several days.

The Auckland Public Health Service has released a report which found Korean oysters eaten by patrons at the event should have been cooked and not served raw.

Gary Langford, chief executive of Eagle Technologies, hosted a table of 10 to enjoy a good meal and watch the All Blacks. He said their troubles started 24 hours later when eight out of the 10 guests, including himself, became very ill.

Langford says he had no idea the oysters he was eating weren’t from New Zealand and weren’t even fresh.

“They looked fine, we were busy talking and there was lots of activity around us. Everybody ate the oysters and no one commented that they were strange taste or anything like that.”

The chef was meant to have ordered 200 dozen oysters with Clevedon Coast Oysters but made a mistake and ordered just 20 dozen. He made up the numbers by buying frozen imported oysters which should never be eaten raw.

The Korean oysters are imported on the basis that they must be cooked before serving. The report released by the public health service said a number of people have become sick after eating partially cooked Korean oysters such as you would find in carpet bag steaks or from some takeaway bars.

Clevedon Coast Oysters believes its reputation has been tarnished because of the mix up with the Eden Park menu saying they were serving its oysters.

Langford says he also initially thought Clevedon Coast were the culprits but realised when he learned it was norovirus that they were not New Zealand oysters. In laymen’s terms norovirus means they were contaminated with sewerage, a horrified Langford says.

“It was just appalling.”

Clevedon Coast says NZ oyster suppliers have to follow stringent health and safety regulations and the incident has given all oysters a bad name.

Korean oysters were banned in Australia in 2004 after health authorities there said the number of food poisoning incidents was unacceptable. But Langford says it’s ironic that it was an Australian caterer at Eden Park who served them to the New Zealand public.

He’s calling for New Zealand to follow Australia in banning the Korean oysters.

Imports have been suspended but a recommendation to recall them from consumers has not been followed. Distributors have returned the products to the importer and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority has suspended further imports.

Medical Officer of Health Greg Simmons says public health officials wanted a consumer level recall as well, but the authority decided the oysters were safe if cooked.

Dr Simmons is warning people who have the oysters to cook them thoroughly and not just warm them.