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Demystifying Seafood Safety: How to Store, Prepare and Cook

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Seafood is one of those categories of foods that people love to eat while dining out (like Indian and Chinese food), but often don’t cook themselves. Perhaps this phenomenon is due to food-safety concerns or poor cooking skills. Either way, cooking seafood might seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

I thought I would demystify seafood by developing a simple bullet-point list of tips for storing, preparing and cooking seafood:

Storage

  • Always purchase seafood last during your shopping trip and bring a cooler with ice to transport home.
  • When storing fresh seafood, keep it in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure your home refrigerator is operating at 40°F or colder.  
  • Shellfish (such as mussels, clams and oysters) purchased live in shells should be put in a shallow pan (no water) and refrigerated.
  • Shucked shellfish can be placed in a sealed container and frozen.
  • Frozen seafood should be kept frozen until ready to use.  It is a good idea to date packages of frozen seafood so you can use the older seafood first.  
  • Keep raw and cooked seafood separate when storing to prevent bacterial cross-contamination.
  • Transfer cooked seafood to moisture-proof containers and refrigerate promptly after a meal.
  • Never leave cooked seafood at room temperature for more than two hours.  
  • Refrigerated leftover seafood should be used within one to two days.  It can be frozen for longer storage, but the flavor ant texture may change considerably, so it’s best to go ahead and enjoy another meal instead of freezing.

Shelf Life

  • Whole fish or fish fillets should be used within 1 to 2 days after purchase. 
  • Mussels and clams should be used within 2-3 days and oysters within 7-10 days.
  • Live lobsters and crabs should be cooked the day they are purchased.

Preparation and Clean Up

  • Frozen seafood must be thawed properly. It can be thawed by leaving in the refrigerator or by immersing in cold water for a short time in a sealed plastic bag. If thawing in the refrigerator, allow one to two hours per pound of seafood.  DO NOT REFREEZE FISH THAT HAS BEEN THAWED.
  • After handling raw seafood, thoroughly wash knives, cutting surfaces, dish washing cloths, and your hands with hot soapy water. Avoid using wooden cutting boards when cutting fish, instead use non-porous boards.
  • Always marinade seafood in the refrigerator in a glass or plastic container. Do not sit fish out on the counter to marinate.
  • Discard marinade after use – do not use for basting. If marinate is needed for basting, reserve a portion before mixing with raw seafood.

Cooking Time

  • Generally speaking, fish is finished cooking when the flesh becomes opaque and flakes easily when tested with a fork. Scientifically, when the internal temperature reaches 145°F, the fish is fully cooked and safe to eat. 
  • Cooking time for fish fillets is 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measuring at the thickest part of the fillet or steak. 
  • When grilling or pan sautéing thicker fish (tuna, swordfish, grouper, etc), turn fish over halfway through the cooking time. When turning fillets, use two spatulas – one to turn and the other to hold the fillet in-tact. Fillets less than 1/2-inch-thick do not need to be turned during cooking.
  • When cooking fish fillets in parchment paper, foil, or a sauce, add 5 minutes to the total cooking time.
  • Scallops will turn firm and opaque when fully cooked. Shrimp will also turn firm and become pinkish in color.  
  • Shellfish (clams, mussels, oysters) will become plump and opaque and their shells will open when done cooking. Discard any shellfish that does not open after cooking.

Serving

  • Never serve cooked seafood on a plate that held the raw product without thoroughly cleaning the plate beforehand.

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