Fresh and Frozen Seafood Guidelines from FDA

Here is a nice, short video by the US FDA with advice on how to choose fresh or frozen seafood. I feel that good advice on seafood handling cannot be repeated enough. You can read a dozen lists online stating the same general guidelines, but sometimes it takes a video for it to sink in.

It is nice to see these fresh and frozen seafood practices in action. What does “firm flesh” or “clear eyes” mean unless you’ve seen it before? This video also shows a good example of a fresh fish market with lots good looking fish on lots of ice.

FDA Advice on Selecting Fresh Seafood

  • Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour, or ammonia-like.
  • A fish’s eyes should be clear and shiny.
  • Whole fish should have firm flesh and red gills with no odor. Fresh fillets should have firm flesh and red blood lines, or red flesh if fresh tuna. The flesh should spring back when pressed.
  • Fish fillets should display no discoloration, darkening, or drying around the edges.
  • Shrimp, scallop, and lobster flesh should be clear with a pearl-like color and little or no odor.
  • Some refrigerated seafood may have time/temperature indicators on their packaging, which show if the product has been stored at the proper temperature. Always check the indicators when they are present and only buy the seafood if the indicator shows that the product is safe to eat.
  • Fresh fish and fish fillets sold as “Previously Frozen” may not have all the characteristics of fresh fish (e.g., bright eyes, firm flesh, red gills, flesh, or bloodlines), however, they should still smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour, or rancid.

Further Advice for Selecting Shellfish

Shellfish like oysters, steamed clams and lobster are all extremely popular. But chances are if you get sick from seafood, it will most likely be from shellfish. When selecting shellfish to eat, follow these guidelines to ensure you are not starting out with a bad batch to being with.

  1. Look for the label: Look for tags on sacks or containers of live shellfish (in the shell) and labels on containers or packages of shucked shellfish. These tags and labels contain specific information about the product, including the processor’s certification number. This means that the shellfish were harvested and processed in accordance with national shellfish safety controls.
  2. Discard Cracked/Broken Ones: Throw away clams, oysters, and mussels if their shells are cracked or broken.
  3. Do a “Tap Test”: Live clams, oysters, and mussels will close when the shell is tapped. If they don’t close when tapped, do not select them.
  4. Check for Leg Movement: Live crabs and lobsters should show some leg movement. They spoil rapidly after death, so only live crabs and lobsters should be selected and prepared.

Guidelines for Frozen Seafood

Marden's scrod supreme frozen seafood entree
  • Don’t buy frozen seafood if its package is open, torn, or crushed on the edges.
  • Avoid frozen seafood with signs of frost or ice crystals, which may mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen.
  • Avoid packages where the “frozen” fish flesh is not hard. The fish should not be bendable.
  • Put seafood on ice or in the refrigerator or freezer soon after buying it.
  • If seafood will be used within 2 days of purchase, store it in the refrigerator at of 40°F or below.

Some of this advice for frozen seafood may seem like common sense, but I think it is easy to forget when you are busy cooking or entertaining. All the guidelines get thrown out the window if you don’t follow safe practices at home. For instance, when it comes to frozen seafood: do you know what temperature your refrigerator is set at? If it isn’t set low enough it could become a food safety issue. One trick I use to just to be safe is I use frozen ice packs or freezer bags full of ice and then lay my seafood on them inside my fridge’s meat tray.