Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the University of Arizona

Storing and Handling Seafood

Seafood is well known for its health and nutritional value. Increasing availability and variety of seafood offers consumers many choices; but, seafood safety should be a concern for everyone. The United States Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulating the seafood industry, and the majority of commercial seafood is safe. But consumers need to their part to ensure seafood safety by following safe handling and cooking guidelines. These guidelines emphasize 3 critical issues; cleanliness, temperature and time. Proper handling of seafood can help prevent food-borne illness and maximize its shelf life.

Purchase fish and seafood from a reputable dealer with a known record of safe food handling practices. Fish and seafood are highly perishable foods so you should purchase these items at the end of your shopping trip. If your commute home is greater than an hour, pack your fish in a cooler. Indicators of fresh fish include eyes which are clear and bulge a little. Whole fish and fillets should have firm and shiny (moist) flesh. Dull flesh may indicate the fish is old. Fresh whole fish should have bright red or pink gills free from slime; if the flesh doesn't spring back when pressed, then it isn't fresh. There should be no darkening around the edges of the fish or brown or yellowish discoloration. Fresh fish should smell fresh and mild, not "fishy". All fresh seafood should be kept at 32° F, and should feel cold to the touch. The word fresh refers to seafood that has not been frozen, although frozen fish can have superior quality. Frozen fish should be packaged in close-fitting, moisture-proof packages. Look for packages that still have their original shape with intact wrapping and little or no visible ice.

Keep seafood cold before it is prepared. Store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator at a temperature close to 32° F. Fish kept at 40° F will lose quality faster. Fish can be stored with ice in the refrigerator. Wrap dressed fish or fillets in a moisture-proof paper or plastic wrap. Fish that is not prepackaged should be washed under cold, running water and patted dry with an absorbent paper towel prior to wrapping. In general you should use fresh or defrosted seafood in 1 or 2 days. Frozen fish should be stored as close to 20° below F as possible. Commercially frozen fish can be stored in the freezer for up to six months. Avoid cross contamination in your refrigerator. Make sure that juices from raw seafood doesn't come in contact in cooked or ready-to-eat foods.

Thaw seafood in the refrigerator (1 pound package in about 24 hours). You can also thaw it under cold running water or place it in cold water changed every 30 minutes (a pound package in about an hour), or in your microwave (1 pound 5 to 6 minutes on defrost) followed by cooking. Wash your hands before preparing seafood or other foods and avoid cross contamination of raw fish with ready-to-eat foods and thoroughly clean utensils and food preparation surfaces. Cook the fish until it begins to flake and loses its translucent or raw appearance. Fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 140 to 145° F. When handling leftovers make sure your hands, utensils, and surfaces are clean. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in covered shallow containers less than 2 inches. Be sure to use refrigerated leftovers in 3 days.

Resources:

  • FDA/CFSAN. 1997. Critical Steps Toward Safer Seafood. In: FDA Consumer Nov/Dec. 1997.
  • Hicks, D. 1996. A Consumer Guide to Safe Seafood Handling. Delaware Sea Grant Program, Newark, Delaware.
  • National Food Safety Database, Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Seafood http://www.foodsafety.org/sea.htm
  • FDA, Food Information and Seafood Hotline
    1-800-322-4010

Material written by Mary Abgrall and Scottie Misner, April 1998.
Part of Food Safety Tips, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona
Document located at http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/health/foodsafety/az1078.html
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