If you’re fond of seafood, it helps to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require all seafood processors to follow the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program for food safety.
This ensures all seafood, including imported seafood, reaches consumers free from different types of hazards such as environmental contaminants (e.g., pesticides), physically hazardous materials (e.g., wood, glass and metal), toxins, chemicals (e.g., cleaners, lubricants, sanitizers), and disease-causing pathogens (e.g., bacteria).
However, consumers also need to practice the safe handling of seafood to ensure food safety is preserved. This means considering important factors such as cleanliness, temperature, and time—especially since seafood is highly perishable.
So, to ensure the seafood you consume is not only delicious and flavorful but also safe and clean, consider the following food practices.
Steps to reduce your risk of food-borne illness:
- Wash your hands before handling seafood and ensure the food preparation area and utensils are clean. Clean everything thoroughly (including your hands) after handling seafood.
- Don’t let cooked seafood or any other type of food (raw or cooked) come into contact with fresh or raw seafood.
- When you’re at the supermarket, try to make seafood your last purchase since it is highly perishable.
- Inspect fresh seafood by using your eyes (for example, check the coloring of the gills of fish), hands (touch for firmness and coldness), and nose (a mild sea breeze smell is fine, but not a fishy smell).
- Frozen or refrigerated fish must be kept at temperatures below 40°F.
- Don’t keep seafood at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F.
- Don’t keep fish and shellfish too long in the refrigerator. If you’re not going to cook them anytime soon, keep them frozen.
- Thoroughly cook seafood for at least 15 seconds to an internal temperature of 145°F. Correctly cooked seafood is moist and has a consistent or solid color throughout.
- Only buy seafood from reputable retailers who are known for maintaining high standards of quality, hygiene, safety, and sanitation. Watch out for open-air markets where refrigeration and protection from germs may be questionable.
Aside from proper handling procedures and practices, you also need to know how to properly store seafood. Check out the tips below.
Proper seafood storage:
- When you want to buy a whole fish, live clams or oysters, New Orleans is a great place to do so because of the abundance of Gulf seafood. But you need to place your purchases in the freezer right away, or bury them in ice if you plan on cooking them soon.
- Fish is meant to be consumed quickly—usually in one or two days. However, do note that fish shelf life depends on the fish species as well as the quality of the fish you purchased.
- For shellfish, make sure to buy from reputable dealers who can easily provide certification tags for the shellfish they sell. Shellfish is not meant to be stored for long. Live shellfish must be kept covered with damp or moistened towels (paper towels work, too) in a shallow dish, not in water or an airtight container. Use a stiff brush to scrub the shells before shucking them or cooking. Live mussels must be consumed within two or three days, while oysters and clams in the shell should ideally be eaten within seven to ten days. If you see some shells opening while in storage, tap on them until they close. If they don’t, get rid of them.
- Squid, shucked shellfish, crawfish, and shrimp must be kept in a container or a leak-proof bag. Scallops and shrimp may be safely stored for two to three days, while freshly shucked clams and squid can be safely stored for only one to two days. For oysters that have been freshly shucked, a shelf life of five to seven days is pretty standard.
- Live crabs and lobsters must be consumed on the day you buy them. Once cooked, whole crabs or lobsters can be kept in an airtight container. Be sure to consume them within two to three days. Always check the “use by” dates on the package of pasteurized crab meat. It can be refrigerated for up to six months prior to opening, but once the package is opened, it needs to be used within three to five days.
Know that even if you buy from sustainable seafood sellers, it falls on you, the consumer, to practice safe food handling to ensure you and your family continue to enjoy seafood that’s tasty, flavorful, and nutritious as well as risk free.