Recently I came across some live oysters (not mine) destined for delivery to a local restaurant. They were loose in an unlidded box, covered only with paper. Handwritten on the side of the box was the restaurant's name and the type of oyster. No harvest date, no PR (Product Recall) number and hence, no proof of provenance.
WHAT YOU SHOULD BE GETTING
According to the NSW Shellfish Industry Manual, the 'bible' for licensed businesses operating in the NSW oyster industry, a long list of information including PRNs, date of harvest, species etc should travel with harvested oysters throughout both the wholesale and retail chain for food safety and traceability reasons.
In addition to the obvious food safety requirements, as a Chef operating on a tight budget and committed to working with high-quality ingredients, I'd damn well want proof of provenance with any oysters I purchased. I'd also want to know the harvest date for FIFO and because, as we all know, Pacifics have a shorter shelf life than Sydney Rocks and things can get tricky juggling both species. So I'd really want to know how many days I was going to get out of my purchase before it turned up its toes (if it had 'em).
You will never buy oysters from Shuck without their provenance in place. By this I mean specifically the Place of Harvest, backed up by a traceable PR number.
This is why I love working with Australia's Oyster Coast and in particular their award-winning Appellation Oysters. Not only do you get your provenance info, harvest date, species type etc etc, but you also get detailed tasting notes for kitchen and front of house staff.
Some people scoff at the need for tasting notes, but front of house staff love them because they help them to sell the oysters on hand, and customers who are genuinely interested in oysters absolutely lap up in the information.
HERE'S WHAT GOOD PRACTICE PROVENANCE LOOKS LIKE
Not glamorous but this is the level of provenance you should be receiving.
HOW SURE ARE YOU THAT YOU'RE GETTING WHAT YOU PAID FOR?
So what I'd suggest you ask yourself, when you are for instance buying 'local' oysters and promoting them as such on your menu, is are you really 100% sure they are local? Do you have an actual place of harvest and a traceable PRN? If yes, great! If not, why not? (You can always refer to the Shellfish Manual, which you can download from the NSW Food Authority - or ask me for a copy and I'll email it to you.)
Equally so, if you're buying say, 'Coffin Bay Pacifics', are they really from Coffin Bay? Insist on getting the the information required by the Food Safety Authority, and have confidence in knowing that you really are getting the real deal.
Let's just say if you piled up all the oysters sold each year as 'Coffin Bay Pacifics' you'd probably have enough to fill all of South Australia, and half of W.A. too.
NOTE: this blog has been updated since its original draft to include more details about the requirements of the NSW Food Authority in terms of labelling throughout the wholesale supply channel.