How to Enjoy Your Seafood Safely


Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’re a big fan of fresh, delicious seafood. While all of us seafood lovers may greatly enjoy eating our delicacies from the deep, it is important that we know all of the proper safety measures to take before preparing and consuming seafood.

One thing you’ll definitely want to avoid, be it with seafood or any other meal you might have is foodborne illness. Also known as food poisoning, foodborne illness is especially common in meats and seafood, so one must always take the proper precautions. No matter where you catch or buy your seafood from, it is up to you to keep it safe and healthy once you bring it home. We’ll start out by giving some advice on safely preserving fish.

When you are preparing any fresh fish, you will want to be sure that it has a resilient texture – you want it to have a little bit of fight to it when you press down. If it’s all give and doesn’t rise back up, it’s not ideal for eating. Another telltale sign that your fish is not fresh and could be contaminated is sunken eyes. If the eyes on your fish aren’t slightly raised and don’t have a clear look to them, it’s a sign of possible spoilage. The Red Snapper in the picture below satisfy on both counts.2The gills of your fish should always be red and fully intact as well.1 You’ll also want to avoid eating any seafood that has an overly sour, fishy, or ammonia-like odor as these are all signs that the seafood is not fresh and could be infected.

Due to the lighter density of their flesh, the cooking time for fish is much shorter than it is for other kinds of meat. However, you want to be sure not to overcook or undercook your fish. When cooked for too long, many of the greatest health benefits, such as the rich supply of Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, B, and D, calcium, and iron are lost.3 When you undercook your fish, your chances of contracting food poisoning rise significantly. You can tell that fish is cooked to its optimum temperature when the inside of the flesh is at 145 degrees Fahrenheit and the texture becomes flaky.

With any kind of seafood, you want to avoid cross-contamination to stay healthy and safe. The main way of doing this is to make sure you avoid mixing cooked and raw seafood together at all times. You always want to keep your seafood properly chilled when in storage. If you aren’t planning to cook seafood within two days of purchase, you should store it in a freezer, wrapped well in aluminum foil. You should also always freeze any seafood (other than shellfish) that you intend to eat raw before consumption as this will go a long way in killing any possible parasites that it might have.1 Before you cook seafood that you’ve frozen, you will first want to thaw it for several hours in your refrigerator. If you don’t have time for this, the next best thing to do is let it sit in a sealed plastic bag in moderately cold water.2

When it comes to shellfish, the rules for safekeeping and preservation are a little bit different. However, the rules about avoiding cross-contamination, over/under cooking, and freezing/refrigeration still apply. It is important to buy all of shellfish fresh and to make sure it is still alive up until the time that you’re ready to cook it. A simple way to test the freshness of lobster or crabs is to perform a “tap test”.3 Basically, all this entails is tapping on the shell to ensure that it is firm and healthy. If there is too much give any lobster or crab shell, you should avoid eating the meat inside of it.

When it comes to mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops, it is important that no shells are broken and that all of the shells are tightly shut. This means that they are still alive and in optimum freshness. You’ll also want to make sure that shellfish open while boiling/steaming and that the meat within a scallop feels firm when pressed.
Fresh Shellfish in CT - Atlantic Seafood Market
Mussels as they should appear before cooking (left) and after cooking (right)

For all seafood, regardless of whether you’re dealing with fish, lobster, clams or any other variety, it is imperative that it is never left in any environment with a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit for more than one hour.2. If you’re going to be bringing seafood along on a picnic, always remember to store it in a cooler that is properly iced. You’ll want to keep your heaviest and most intact ice chips on top of the seafood and have the melted and smaller ice cubes underneath.4

It is important to bear in mind that some people are more susceptible to food poisoning than others. Very young children, pregnant women, elderly people, people with low levels of stomach acids, and people with immune disorders must be especially cautious at all times. In addition to this, pregnant women should avoid eating mercury rich seafoods, such as swordfish, tilefish, mackerel, and shark.2

If you pay close attention and remember our advice, you’ll find yourself happily and safely enjoying seafood for years to come!

Works Cited

1. Matherne, Alan
Make Sure You Handle Seafood the Right Way
LSU Agricultural Center, July 8, 2012

2. Author Unavailable
Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving it Safely

3. Zuckerbrot, Tanya
Seafood Safety Tips July 25, 2011

4. Varron
Different Methods of Preserving Fish
Small Dogs, September 15, 2011

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