It’s no secret that we love seafood. But how do we ensure safety and maximize quality when enjoying it? Follow these helpful seafood safety tips for safe handling, buying, preparing and storing your favorite fish and shellfish.
We enjoy fresh, frozen and canned seafood! When heading to the fish market or your supermarket’s fish counter, keep these 5 things in mind to buy the freshest and most delicious seafood available.
Tips for Fresh Seafood:
- Purchase your seafood from a reputable source. Don’t be afraid to speak to the fish monger or professionals behind the counter. They’re great resources!
- Only buy fish that’s refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of ice. Seafood should be refrigerated below 40°F.
- Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy or sour. (Your nose is the best test for freshness!)
- Fresh fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and red blood lines, or red lines if fresh tuna. The fish’s eyes should be clear and shiny. Avoid discoloration, darkening or drying around the edges.
- When selecting shellfish, discard cracked or broken clams, oysters or mussels. Also, be sure to do a “tap test,” as live clams, oysters and mussels will close when the shell is tapped.
- Don’t be deterred by fish labeled as “previously frozen seafood” at the fish counter. That just means it was flash frozen at the source to seal in freshness and your store has thawed it for you. Another bonus is that flash frozen seafood means the nutrients were sealed in at the time of freezing. Just be sure to cook this fish within a couple of days and don’t re-freeze to ensure best taste quality.
Frozen seafood is equally as affordable and delicious as fresh. Plus, frozen fish can be purchased when on sale and kept in the freezer so you always have seafood on hand!
Tips for Frozen Seafood:
- Frozen seafood can spoil if the fish thaws during transport and is left at warm temperatures for too long before cooking. So, pack your frozen seafood in an insulated bag and keep chilled on your drive home from the market. And, don’t re-freeze seafood that has been thawed. Taste and texture quality suffers when frozen seafood is thawed and then re-frozen.
- Don’t buy frozen seafood if its package is open, torn or crushed on the edges. Also, avoid packages with signs of frost or ice crystals, which may mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen.
- Frozen fish should not be bendable. Avoid packages where the “frozen” fish flesh is not hard.
- Frozen seafood varieties should not have white or dark spots or any discoloration.
Seafood Safety Tips for Storing
Seafood is really simple to store. Put seafood on ice or in the refrigerator or freezer soon after buying it. If seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in a clean container in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below as recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Store live clams, oysters, mussels, crabs, lobsters and crayfish in well ventilated containers and cover with a damp cloth or paper towel.
Raw seafood should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator, preferably the meat drawer. Keep the seafood in its original store packaging and place in a clean container to prevent the seafood from leaking onto other foods. FDA recommends cooking fresh seafood within 1-2 days of purchase.
Prepared seafood may be stored in a sealed container for no more than four days. And to preserve freshness, always store your prepared seafood in a covered container.
If you prefer to prep meals ahead of time and freeze them to be reheated later or just like to freeze leftovers, here are some tips for safely freezing seafood:
- When freezing freshly caught or not previously frozen seafood, wrap well in plastic freezer-safe bags and press out all air. Or store in a freezer-safe container, leaving about a 1-inch space between food and lid for expansion of frozen food. Date all packages before placing in the freezer.
- Label all packages with type of fish/dish and date when frozen. Fattier fish, like salmon, will stay good in the freezer for up to 3 months. Leaner white fish, like cod, will stay good in the freezer little longer, around 6 months.
- Freeze in smaller portions that will take less time to thaw, or freeze in individual portions.
- If you’ve frozen your cooked seafood for enjoying later, label it so you can thaw and eat within two months.
Pro tip: Having a bag of salmon fillets in the freezer makes it easy to have seafood twice a week! And a bag of frozen shrimp in your freezer is your best friend for a FAST dinner paired with pasta, rice or salad.
One of the questions we get asked the most is, “How do I properly thaw frozen seafood?”
For Overnight thawing—Thaw your seafood overnight in the refrigerator. Take seafood out of the freezer the day before, place it in a clean container and cover with plastic wrap. Place the container on a low shelf in the refrigerator to defrost. After thawing, discard any liquid that has collected in the packaging and use within a day.
For Quick thawing—While thawing overnight in a refrigerator is ideal, you can thaw seafood quickly in cool water or in the microwave. Just ensure that your seafood is cooked thoroughly before serving.
Cool water method—Place seafood in a leak-proof plastic baggie. Seal the baggie tightly and submerge in cold tap water (never hot water) and change the water every thirty minutes until food is defrosted. Cook seafood immediately after thawing.
Microwave method—Follow your microwave manufacturer’s settings for defrost, checking frequently until the seafood is cool and pliable. Be careful not to overheat, as this will start the cooking process. Cook seafood immediately after thawing.
Once frozen seafood has been thawed, do not re-freeze raw. Freezing cooked seafood (that has been safely thawed first) is fine. Refreezing any seafood that was thawed and not used/cooked should not be refrozen. Texture and taste quality will suffer.
Preparation hack: If you have frozen seafood, instead of thawing, marinating, cooking and then refreezing it, keep the seafood frozen and prep the rest of the ingredients ahead of time; freeze separately. For example, prep marinades, chop veggies, cook sauce or grains, cool, bag, label and keep near the seafood so you can pull out of the freezer at once and thaw together. Then all of the ingredients are ready to cook once thawed, making cooking a breeze!
You already know that cooking seafood is simple, and that it’s delicious and nutritious. As you prepare your meal, keep in mind these recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
- Separate raw and cooked seafood to avoid cross-contamination.
- Wash hands, utensils, plates and cutting boards thoroughly between handling raw seafood and cooked seafood, produce or other ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook seafood to 145°F or until the fish becomes opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Shellfish such as clams, mussels and oysters should open their shells as they cook. Discard any shells that do not open during cooking.
Most importantly, enjoy! Now what are you waiting for? Head to your local store and pick up some fish for dinner.