Consumer Tips For Handling Seafood Safely
Robert J. Price
Always purchase seafood from a dealer that maintains high quality. Know the Characteristics of high quality seafood, and avoid low-quality products.
Purchase raw shellfish carefully. Buy raw clams, oysters and mussels only from reputable markets. If in doubt, ask the seafood market personnel to show you the certified shipper's tag that accompanies "shell on" products or check the shipper number on shucked oyster containers.
When you leave the seafood market, keep your seafood cold. Leaving groceries in the car on a hot day speeds spoilage and may make seafood unsafe to eat.
Place seafood immediately in the refrigerator when you get home from the seafood market.
Wrap fresh seafood in "cling wrap" or store in air- tight containers. Store fresh, pasteurized, or smoked seafood products at 32-38ºF.
Refrigerate live clams, oysters, mussels, crabs, lobsters and crayfish in well ventilated containers. Cover the container with a damp cloth or paper towel.
Do not store live shellfish in air-tight bags or containers. Storing live shellfish in salt water shortens their shelf life. Storing them in fresh water kills them.
Keep "live" shellfish alive. Do not cook or eat shellfish such as clams, oysters, mussels, crabs, lobsters, and crayfish that have died during storage. Live clams, oysters, and mussels have tightly closed shells, or the shells will close when tapped. Live crabs, lobsters, and crayfish move their legs. Dead shell fish spoil rapidly and develop off-flavor and off- odors.
Store frozen seafood products immediately in the freezer when you get home from the seafood market. Store them in their original moisture and vapor proof package.
Frozen seafoods packaged in over-wrapped trays should be repackaged in "cling wrap," plastic "freezer" wrap, freezer paper, or other moisture and vapor proof material before you store them in freezer.
Keep frozen seafood products at 0ºF or below until ready to use.
Many frozen seafood products do not need to thaw before being cooked. Follow the processor's directions for preparing frozen seafoods.
Thaw frozen seafood in the refrigerator (about 18 hours per pound) or under cold running water (about 1 hour per pound).
Do not thaw frozen seafood at room temperature or under warm running water. Thinner parts of the seafood thaw faster than thicker parts, and the outer edges may start to spoil before the center has thawed.
Don't cross-contaminate! Food poisoning and spoilage bacteria can spread from live and raw seafood to cooked seafood. Handle raw and cooked seafood products separately.
Thoroughly wash and rinse knives, containers, and cutting boards between handling raw and cooked seafoods. Keep raw and cooked seafoods from coming in contact with each other.
Cook fish and shellfish thoroughly. Fish is cooked when it begins to flake and reaches an internal temperature of 140ºF.
All raw foods contain bacteria. Handle seafood as you would any perishable food. Keep seafood properly refrigerated, cook adequately, and handle with safety in mind.
Many consumers enjoy raw or lightly marinated seafood products such as sashimi, sushi, ceviche, gravlax, cold-smoked fish and raw shellfish. Eating raw seafood (and raw meat, poultry, or dairy products), has a greater food safety risk than eating properly cooked products. Follow these tips to reduce this risk:
Individuals with chronic liver disease or compromised immune systems should avoid eating raw or partially cooked oysters. The US Food Drug Administration advises that oysters may contain the bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus. This is especially true with oysters in the summer months from Gulf Coast waters. Vibrio vulnificus can cause severe illness and death for individuals suffering from liver disease, stomach disorders, blood disorders, or immune system deficiencies.
Since cooking destroys Vibrio vulnificus, consumers with these conditions can enjoy cooked shellfish preparations.
Consumer Tips For Purchasing High Quality Seafood
Robert J. Price
Fresh seafood, like many other foods, are more abundant during certain seasons of the year. Your seafood dealer can tell you about seasonal offerings. Your dealer can also indicate the most economical seafood varieties. Always purchase seafood from a dealer that maintains high quality. Base your seafood purchases on quality. Frozen seafood can be superior in quality to fresh products. Many fish and shellfish are "flash frozen" within hours of harvest. It might take several days for the same seafood to make it to your seafood dealer as "fresh".
When you purchase seafood, look for the following characteristics of high quality.
Appearance is bright and shiny, and most of the scales are intact and adhere tightly to the skin. Each species has characteristic markings and colors which fade and become less pronounced as the fish loses freshness.
Eyes are bright, clear, full, and often protrude. As quality goes down, the eyes often turn pink and become cloudy and sunken. This does not always apply to small-eyed fish such as salmon.
Gills are red and free from slime. The color fades with time to light pink, then gray, and finally greenish or dull brown.
Odor is fresh and mild. A fish just out of the water has practically no "fish~ odor. The fishy odor develops with time, but should not be strong or objectionable.
Flesh is firm, elastic, and not separating from the bones.
Odor is fresh and mild. Flesh is moist, firm, elastic, and has a fresh-cut appearance without traces of browning or drying around the edges.
Pre-packaged steaks and fillets are in tightly wrapped packages. There is little or no air space between the fish and the wrapping material, and no liquid in the package.
Flesh is solid, and there is no discoloration or drying (freezer burn) on the surface.
Odor is not evident or is fresh and mild.
Wrapping material is moisture and vapor proof, fits closely around the product, and is undamaged.
Packaging materials do not contain ice crystals, or have water shins or other indications that the product had thawed at any point.
Packaged breaded and unbreaded products have a clean and uniform appearance. Individual pieces separate easily. Breading is intact.
Packaged frozen seafood may have an expiration date stamped on the label. Use the seafood before the expiration date.
Fresh shrimp have a mild odor and firm textured meat. The shell or meat is not slippery, and there are no black spots or patches on the shell or meat.
The shell of raw shrimp may be grayish green, pinkish tan, or light pink. When cooked, the shell turns red and the meat takes on a similar reddish tint.
Cooked shrimp have red shells, firm meat, and a mild odor.
Live crabs, lobsters, spiny lobsters, and crayfish move their legs. The "tail" of a live lobster curls under the body and does not hang down when you pick it up.
Frozen spiny or rock lobster tails have clear white meat, no odor, and are hard-frozen.
Cooked crabs, lobsters, and crayfish have bright orange to red shells and are free of any disagreeable odor.
Smoked fish are bright and glossy. There is no dried blood or mold on the product.
Simulated crab meat, lobster meat, shrimp, scallops and other seafood products made from surimi have a fresh and mild odor.
Simulated seafood products are moist, and have a fresh appearance without traces of browning or discoloration.
Purchase raw shell.fish carefully. Buy raw clams, oysters and mussels only from reputable markets. If in doubt, ask the seafood market personnel to show you the certified shipper's tag that accompanies "shell on" products or check the shipper number on shucked oyster containers.
Clams, oysters and mussels in the shell are alive, and the shells close tightly when tapped. Gaping shells indicate that the shellfish are dead and not edible.
Shucked oysters are plump, and have a mild odor, a natural creamy color, and clear liquid or nectar.
Fresh scallops have a sweetish odor and are free of excess liquid when packaged. The meat of the large sea scallop is white, orange or pink. Smaller bay and calico scallops are white, light tan, or pinkish.
Cooked ready-to-eat seafood include cooked crabmeat, cooked shrimp, smoked fish, and simulated seafood products. Contamination with illness causing bacteria can make cooked seafood unsafe.
Live and raw seafood may naturally carry illness causing bacteria. These bacteria are not a problem if you cook seafood thoroughly. The bacteria can be a problem if they transfer to cooked ready-to-eat seafoods.
The transfer of illness causing bacteria to cooked seafood can occur when store personnel use poor handling techniques. For example, contamination can occur when:
Do not purchase cooked seafood if you observe poor seafood handling techniques.
Temperature is important for seafood quality. Fresh seafood should be displayed at 29-32ºF; frozen seafood at 0ºF or below. Package fresh and frozen seafood products should be stored below or behind the "load lines" in self-service display cases.
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