From your experience working at a restaurant, you probably know that all food items need to be safely stored and handled. But seafood requires extra care. To ensure the safety of your customers and those working around you, there are a few things to keep in mind when storing and handling seafood.
Top 2 factors that affect seafood perishability
All food is perishable. But seafood, in particular, has high perishability. So, it’s helpful to review the two most important factors that affect your seafood’s shelf life:
The spoilage enzymes in other meat are paralyzed when kept in a refrigerator at 40 degrees F, but the spoilage enzymes in seafood work perfectly fine at this temperature.
Therefore, to minimize spoilage, you should tightly wrap your fish and place it on ice in the fridge. Remember to periodically drain the ice as it melts.
While it is recommended to serve seafood the day you receive it, storing it properly in the fridge will help keep any food fresh overnight.
The longer you store your seafood, the greater the chances of it spoiling. But it is helpful to understand which types of seafood have a longer shelf life than others when stored in the right conditions:
| Seafood Storage Table
Type of fish Refrigerator Freezer
Fresh (lean) 1-2 days 6 months
Fresh (fatty) 1-2 days 3 months
Canned (removed) 3-5 days 3 months
Smoked (unpackaged) 3-4 days do not freeze
Smoked (packaged) sell-by date 3 months
Cooked 3 days 3 months
Remember to not keep your cooked seafood out for more than 2 hours. The USDA calls the range of room temperature from 40-140 degrees F a “danger zone” where bacteria doubles every 20 minutes, making it unsafe to serve or consume.
Get the necessary information about your food
Although it’s important to safely store and handle seafood after you receive it, it’s equally important to ensure that your seafood was handled safely when it was caught. Here are some ways you can do that:
Contact your fish vendor/supplier
Most local suppliers will tell you when they caught the fish or how long it was on the boat. You can ask the vendor about the type of fish caught (wild or farm-raised), country of origin, and sanitary handling. Based on where you are and the size of your restaurant, this information can be useful.
Inspect retail food
Even if you order directly from a retail store, you can inspect the food you purchase. Remember to use your packaged fresh food by the marked sell-by date. For live shellfish, look for tags on sacks or containers. These tags and labels contain specific information about the product and the processor’s certification number. The tag indicates that the shellfish were processed in accordance with national shellfish safety laws.
How to store live seafood
Live seafood can be stored for even less time than regular fish. While the general rules for storing seafood still apply to live seafood, there are a few other details that you should keep in mind.
Keep live seafood away from freshwater
Saltwater fish cannot survive in freshwater and vice versa. This means that unless you have a perforated utensil to allow drainage, live seafood should not be stored on ice. The ice can melt and kill the seafood.
Use open containers for storage
Unlike regular seafood, live seafood requires ventilation. Typical live seafood like oysters, clams, mussels, and lobsters should be shipped live to you. After receiving it, ensure that the seafood is not stored in airtight containers or plastic bags.
Do not freeze your live fish
Live seafood thrives best in cold temperatures less than 41 degrees F (5 degrees C). And most modern refrigerators are set at this temperature, so you won’t have to use the freezer. Ensure that you store your seafood in the back of the refrigerator where it is the coldest.
Keep your seafood moist
While freshwater kills your fish, it still requires some moisture. You should cover the utensil with a damp cloth, which you periodically change, or moist seaweed. This will ensure longevity.
Do not serve or eat seafood that has died during storage
After death, live seafood spoils rapidly, making it unsafe to consume and serve. You can keep these tips in mind when storing different types of live seafood:
- Oysters/Clams: Discard oysters or clams with broken shells. Another way to check for broken shells is by tapping the oyster’s shell and ensuring that they close. Like other kinds of seafood, oysters will taste best if served on the day they arrive. But you can store them for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Remember to rinse in cold water before shucking the oyster as this will remove any loose bits of shell and mud.
- Mussels: Like other shellfish, ensure that the mussels’ shells close before storing and plating. While storing, don’t remove the beards on mussels as this can help them stay alive for longer. Instead, remove the beards right before cooking. Doing this allows you to store mussels for 2-3 days.
- Lobsters/Crabs: Ensure that your live lobsters or crabs show some leg movement when touched. Live lobsters should also have hard shells and no broken antennae. They should be cooked within 24 hours of receipt. But, one way you could increase shelf life to 1-2 weeks is by investing in a lobster tank.
Now that you know about seafood handling and storage, you can ensure that your customers have a safe dining experience. Remember to consider factors that affect seafood, proactively find out where your food comes from, and use different methods to store live seafood. You can also further your education by completing a licensed food handlers certification.