Shopping for seafood
Making the perfect seafood recipe starts with selecting the perfect seafood. The following is a compilation of tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Defense Fund and good old common sense.
The process starts by buying seafood from a retailer who follows proper food handling practices. This helps ensure that the seafood you are purchasing is safe and high quality. I encourage you to go the extra mile and check out a market’s seafood counter carefully. Does it look and smell clean?
How to Choose Fresh Fish
The key to buying perfect seafood is to only buy fish that is refrigerated or properly iced. Fish should be displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice that is not melting, and preferably in a case or under some type of cover. Other tips:
Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like.
A fish’s eyes should be clear and bulge a little (except for a few naturally cloudy-eyed fish types, such as walleye pike).
Whole fish and filets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from slime. Dull flesh could mean the fish is old. Note: Fish fillets that have been previously frozen may have lost some of their shine, but they are fine to eat.
The flesh should spring back when pressed.
Fish fillets should display no darkening or drying around the edges. They should have no green or yellowish discoloration, and should not appear dry or mushy in any areas.
It is important to look for freshness when choosing seafood. In some species, if the catch has been left out in the sun too long—or the fish haven’t been transported under proper refrigeration—toxins known as scombrotoxins, or histamines, can develop. Eating spoiled fish that have high levels of these toxins can cause illness.
Buying Frozen Fish
Today, fresh catches can be processed and frozen immediately to very low temperatures— frequently, this takes place right on the fishing vessel. However, frozen seafood can spoil if the fish thaws during transport and is left at warm temperatures for too long. To help ensure that the frozen fish you’re buying is safe, follow these guidelines:
Don’t buy frozen seafood if its package is open, torn or crushed on the edges.
Avoid packages that are positioned above the “frost line” or top of the freezer case in the store’s freezer.
If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. These could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen—in which case, choose another package.
Storing Seafood—Keep It Safe Until You Eat It
Put seafood on ice or in the refrigerator or freezer soon after buying it, using these guidelines for safe storage:
If seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in the refrigerator.
If seafood won’t be used within two days after purchase, wrap it tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks, and store it in the freezer.
Thaw It Safely
Thaw frozen seafood gradually by placing it in the refrigerator overnight. If you need to thaw seafood quickly, either seal it in a plastic bag and immerse it in cold water, or—if the food will be cooked immediately thereafter—microwave it on the defrost setting and stop the defrost cycle while the fish is still icy but pliable.
Cook It Properly
Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F. But if you don’t have a food thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done.
Fish: Slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull it aside. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily. If you cooked the fish in the microwave, check it in more than one spot to help ensure doneness.
Shrimp and Lobster: The flesh becomes pearly-opaque.
Scallops: The flesh turns milky white or opaque and firm.
Clams, Mussels and Oysters: Watch for the point at which their shells open, which means they’re done. Throw out the ones that don’t open.
Follow these serving guidelines once your seafood is cooked and ready to be enjoyed.
Never leave seafood or other perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours—or, for more than 1 hour when temperatures are above 90°F. Bacteria that can cause illness grow quickly at warm temperatures (temperatures between 40°F and 140°F).
Carry picnic seafood in a cooler with a cold pack or ice. When possible, put the cooler in the shade. Keep the lid closed as much of the time as you can.
When it’s party time, keep hot seafood hot and cold seafood cold: Divide hot party 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 gathering from platters kept in the refrigerator.
Smoked Seafood: Avoiding Listeriosis
Pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems have an increased chance of getting a foodborne illness called listeriosis. If you are in one of these groups, there is a simple step you can take to reduce your chance of contracting the listeriosis disease from seafood: Avoid refrigerated types of smoked seafood except in a cooked recipe, such as a casserole.
Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel, is usually labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky” and can be found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores and delicatessens. They should be avoided. You needn’t worry about getting listeriosis from canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood.
Eating Raw Seafood—What You Need To Know
It’s always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness. However, if you choose to eat raw fish anyway, one rule of thumb is to eat fish that has been previously frozen.
Some species of fish can contain parasites, and freezing will kill any parasites that may be present.
However, be aware that freezing doesn’t kill all harmful microorganisms. That’s why the safest route is to cook your seafood.