Happy #SeafoodSunday, Seafoodies!
Summertime usually means eating more meals al fresco, which also means fighting off more ants, flies and other critters. And with summertime temps rising, that also means we need to be more aware of food safety, especially when keeping food outside at cookouts, picnics and beach or boat hangouts. The good news is that seafood is easy to purchase, store and prepare safely. Here, we break down the food safety and handling recommendations from experts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and provide a few fish-specific basics to keep in mind this summer.
- Shop wisely. Be sure to buy from a trusted source, such as a fish market or well-stocked supermarket seafood counter. Seafood should always be displayed on a thick bed of ice or refrigerated. And, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations! A quick chat with your fishmonger can teach you a lot about different species, and you might even find a new favorite.
- Trust your nose. Fish should always smell fresh and mild, no exceptions. If it’s fishy or sour-smelling, it’s a deal-breaker–toss it back!
- Look closely. After it passes the sniff test, you’ll want to visually inspect your fish before buying. Only buy fish with firm, shiny flesh, clear eyes and red blood lines. Avoid frozen seafood that is discolored or dry around the edges, has damaged packaging, shows signs of ice crystals or is bendable (this is one scenario in which flexibility is not a virtue!). And when you’re selecting live shellfish, discard any with broken shells and be sure to do a “tap test” on clams, mussels and oysters to make sure their shells close.
- Don’t fear frozen. Frozen fish is affordable and delicious! It’s flash-frozen at the source to lock in freshness, so you’re getting all the nutritional benefits of fresh. We like to stock up on frozen fish when it’s on sale, so we always have it on hand. Seafood that’s marked “previously frozen” is thawed in the store for your convenience, so be sure to cook it within a couple of days and avoid refreezing to preserve optimum taste and texture.
- Just chill. Frozen seafood can spoil if it thaws too much during transport. For the trip home, be sure to keep it on ice or in an insulated bag.
- Store smartly. As soon as you get back from the market, store seafood at a temperature of 40 degrees or below. If you’re going to use it within a day or two (recommended for fresh seafood), keep it in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Leave it in its original packaging and place in a clean container to prevent leaking. Prepared seafood should be refrigerated in a sealed container for no more than 4 days. If you want to save fresh seafood for later, wrap it well in freezer-safe bags and press out all air before freezing. Don’t forget to label and date! Salmon and other fatty fish can be frozen for up to 3 months; leaner white fish, about 6 months.
- Thaw safely. When time permits, thawing seafood overnight in the refrigerator is ideal. Just place it in a clean container, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator. For same-day cooking, you also can seal it in an airtight plastic bag and submerge in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes until thawed. Or, you can follow your microwave manufacturer’s settings for defrost, checking regularly that the seafood isn’t starting to cook. In all cases, be sure to cook the seafood as soon as it’s thawed. And if you’re really strapped for time, check out our no-thaw-required recipes for cooking straight from frozen! https://dishonfish.com/7-seafood-recipes-you-can-cook-right-from-the-freezer/
- Prep now, cook later. If you’re stocking the freezer with ready-to-go meals, hold off on the actual cooking. Prep sauces, marinades and veggies to freeze in a separate container alongside your frozen seafood. When you’re ready to eat, pull everything out of the freezer at once and thaw it before cooking. With the measuring and chopping already done, you’ll be enjoying dinner in no time flat!
- Keep it clean. Just as when you’re preparing meat or poultry, it’s important to follow some sanitation basics when cooking seafood. To avoid cross-contamination, separate raw seafood from cooked seafood. And be sure to thoroughly wash anything that comes into contact with raw seafood—utensils, plates, cutting boards, your hands—before handling any ready-to-eat food.
- Bring on the heat. When cooking seafood, 145 (degrees F) is the magic number! That’s the internal temperature you’re looking for if you’re using a food thermometer. Or, if you’re cooking by eye, the fish will become opaque and flake easily with a fork when done. Shellfish such as clams and mussels should open their shells, so discard any shells that don’t open during cooking.
The final (and easiest) seafood safety tip is simply to enjoy your seafood! For some mouthwatering recipe ideas, check out our free e-cookbook!