Safe seafood


Selecting fresh fish

When buying fish, make sure it smells fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like.

Whole fish and filets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from slime. Dull flesh could mean the fish is old.

Fish fillets should display no darkening or drying around the edges. They should have no green or yellowish discoloration and should not appear dry or mushy in any areas. Note: Fish fillets that have been previously frozen may have lost some of their shine but they are fine to eat.

Selecting shellfish

  1. Discard Cracked/Broken Ones: Throw away clams, oysters and mussels if their shells are cracked or broken.
  2. Do a "Tap Test": Live clams, oysters and mussels will close up when the shell is tapped. If they don't close when tapped, do not select them.
  3. Check for Leg Movement: Live crabs and lobsters should show some leg movement. They spoil rapidly after death, so only live crabs and lobsters should be selected and prepared.

Storing seafood

Put seafood on ice or in the refrigerator or freezer soon after buying it, using these guidelines for safe storage:

  • If seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in the refrigerator.
  • If seafood won't be used within two days after purchase, wrap it tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks, and store it in the freezer.

Preparing seafood

Thaw it safely

Thaw frozen seafood gradually by placing it in the refrigerator overnight. If you have to thaw seafood quickly, either seal it in a plastic bag and immerse it in cold water, or — if the food will be cooked immediately thereafter — microwave it on the "defrost" setting and stop the defrost cycle while the fish is still icy but pliable.

Prevent cross-contamination

When you're preparing fresh or thawed seafood, it's important to prevent bacteria from the raw seafood from spreading to ready-to-eat food. Take these steps to avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling any raw food.
  • Wash the cutting board with soap and hot water to remove food particles and juices after using it for raw foods such as seafood, and before using the board for cooked or ready-to-eat foods or preparing another food item.

Cooking seafood

Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F. But if you don't have a food thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done.

Slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull it aside. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily. If you cooked the fish in the microwave, check it in more than one spot to help ensure doneness.
Shrimp and lobster
The flesh becomes pearly-opaque.
The flesh turns milky white or opaque and firm.
Clams, mussels and oysters
Watch for the point at which their shells open, which means they're done. Throw out the ones that don't open.

Serving seafood

Place cooked seafood on a clean plate for serving. If cooked foods are placed on an unwashed plate that previously held raw seafood, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked seafood.

Use clean utensils to serve food — not those used in preparation of the raw food.


More about: food storage, seafood, shellfish