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Seafood Safety

The most important considerations in the safe handling of seafood at home are cleanliness, temperature, and time.

Keep your hands, preparation area, and utensils clean. Never let raw seafood come in contact with cooked seafood or other raw (or cooked) foods.

Seafood is highly perishable. If you are buying seafood at the supermarket, make it one of your last purchases. Use your eyes, hands, and nose when selecting fresh fish or shellfish. Your purchase should feel cold to the touch. And it shouldn't smell “fishy.” The odor should be similar to that of a sea breeze.

Be aware of temperatures – of the air, of your refrigerator and freezer, of cooking. Keep foods out of the danger zone (40°F – 140°F). Be aware of time – limit how long the fish and shellfish are unrefrigerated.

Finally, to help keep your seafood safe, keep it clean, keep it cool, and keep it moving!





Here are general tips to keep in mind:


After shopping, immediately store commercially wrapped frozen seafood in your freezer. Put it in the coldest part of the freezer, at a temperature as close to – 20°F as possible. As with other frozen foods, avoid prolonged storage by planning your purchases, keeping in mind “first in, first out.” Commercially frozen seafood can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.


Plan ahead; defrost fish overnight in the refrigerator. This is the best way to thaw fish to minimize loss of moisture. A one-pound package will defrost within twenty-four hours. Never defrost seafood at room temperature or with hot or warm water as bacteria on the surface will begin to multiply. If you forget to take the seafood out of the freezer in time, place it in the sink (still in the package) under cold, running water. A one-pound package will defrost in about an hour. You can use your microwave oven to partially defrost fish. Use the lowest defrost setting (10% – 30% power). A pound of fillets defrosts in five to six minutes. The fish should feel cool, pliable, and slightly icy. Be careful not to overheat it and begin the cooking process. Foods defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately after thawing.


Be sure all surfaces and utensils that will touch the food are clean. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds before starting food preparation, before working with a new food or utensil, after finishing food preparation, before serving, and after going to the bathroom. Don't let juices from raw seafood, meat, or poultry come into contact with other food. Wash cutting board, utensils, counter, sink, and hands with hot, soapy water immediately after preparing raw seafood, meat, or poultry.


Cook fish and shellfish thoroughly. Fish is cooked when it begins to flake and loses its translucent (raw) appearance. Cook fish until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F for at least fifteen seconds. Seafood is usually cooked under moderate to high heat (425°F). You need a reliable, continuous heat source. So, don't cook it on a hot plate. Avoid interrupted cooking – completely cook the seafood at one time.

If you're microwaving fish, you need to compensate for uneven heating and shorter cooking times. Be sure to rotate or stir halfway through the cooking process, cover to retain moisture, heat to an internal temperature of 170°F for 15 seconds, and allow to stand covered for two minutes after cooking. Scallops and shrimp turn firm and opaque when cooked. It takes three to five minutes to boil or steam one pound of medium-sized shrimp, and three to four minutes to cook scallops.


Never put cooked seafood back on the plate that held the raw product. Place leftovers in smaller containers and refrigerate them within two hours when the temperature of the food serving area is below 90°F and within one hour when the air temperature is 90°F or above.

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