When selecting, preparing, cooking and storing seafood, it is important to use proper food safety steps. Follow these tips to make sure your seafood is at its best.

What to Look for When Selecting Seafood?

When selecting fresh fish and shrimp use these tips1:

  • For whole fish (head on):
    • Eyes should be clear and have a slight bulge
    • Flesh should be firm, shiny and free from slime
    • Flesh should spring back when pressed
  • Fish fillets should display no discoloration, darkening or drying.
  • Shrimp flesh should be translucent and shiny with no odor.

For selecting shellfish, you may want to consider these tips:

  • Look at the label: It should show the processor’s certification number. This means the shellfish was harvested and processed in accordance with national shellfish safety controls.
  • Discard all broken or cracked shellfish.
  • 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.
  • For crabs and lobsters, check for leg movement. These shellfish spoil rapidly after they are dead so only choose live ones for freshness.

Frozen and Canned Seafood

Frozen seafood may have had package damage so look for ice crystals or frost inside the package and avoid these items. Do not purchase frozen seafood if the package is damaged, torn or crushed on the edges. This can cause the product to defrost or could indicate that the product was left in warm temperatures for too long. Also, avoid frozen seafood packages that are in the display case above where you see the frost build up in the freezer.

Canned or packaged seafood may be stored for a long period of time; look for an expiration date on the package or can to be aware of the proper storage time.

Preparing Seafood

Keep ready-to-eat items away from raw seafood to avoid cross-contamination. Also keep pre-cooked seafood separate from raw seafood. Wash your hands before and after handling any raw seafood using the 20-second rule with warm water and soap. Use non-porous cutting boards, countertops, utensils and dishes when preparing raw seafood. Sanitize the countertop area where you prepared the raw seafood using a bleach sanitizer or a solution of bleach and water (1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water). Use the sanitization cycle on your dishwasher for cutting boards and utensils after preparing raw seafood.

Thaw frozen seafood prior to cooking in your refrigerator preferably in a container such as a glass bowl (non-porous) overnight. You may also thaw the frozen seafood by placing it in a sealed plastic bag and immersing it in a sink full of cold water. This method is typically used if the seafood will be immediately cooked after thawing.

Cooking Seafood

Using a thermometer, ensure that all seafood is cooked to the proper temperature of 145° F (63° C). If choosing to eat fish or seafood cooked to a medium or rare temperature, the FDA warns that consuming raw or undercooked seafood or shellfish may increase your of foodborne illness, especially if you have certain medical conditions1. The fully cooked seafood should be opaque or look milky white. Allow the seafood to rest for two to three minutes after cooking as the internal temperature will continue to rise. Shellfish will open after three to five minutes of cooking; discard any shellfish that do not open after cooking. Lobster and crabs can take anywhere from five to twenty-five minutes2 to cook depending on their size. When done, their shells turn deep red and their meat turns opaque (milky white in color). If the seafood has an ammonia odor after cooking, do not eat it.

Serving and Storing Leftovers

Seafood should be kept at or above 140° F (60° C) or below 40° F (4° C) so when it’s time to eat, keep hot seafood hot and cold seafood cold:

  • Divide hot dishes containing seafood into smaller serving platters. Keep platters refrigerated until time to reheat them for serving.
  • Keep cold seafood on ice or serve it throughout the meal from platters kept in the refrigerator.

Never leave seafood or other perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours (or for more than one hour when temperatures are above 90° F (32° C)). Bacteria that can cause illness grow quickly at warm temperatures (between 40° F (4° C) and 140° F (60° C)).

Remember to store leftovers in non-porous (glass type) containers in your refrigerator.

For more information on seafood safety, contact NSF’s Consumer Information Specialist at info@nsf.org or +1 734.418.6612.