Handling Seafood

Many people shy away from eating seafood at home because they’re unsure how to properly handle it. Seafood is more perishable than many food items, so you must pay a little more attention to its careful handling. But don’t let that scare you away from a delicious, nutritious meal - as recommended by Delaware Sea Grant’s Consumer's Guide to Safe Seafood Handling disclaimer, just remember to “keep it cold, keep it moving, and keep it clean.” Follow these general guidelines to maintain the quality and safety of your seafood.

Keep it Cold

fish on ice

…from the store to your home, in your refrigerator or freezer, and even when thawing for use.

  • Purchase seafood last during your shopping trip, and bring a cooler to transport it home. If you’ve caught your own fish, bury them on ice immediately or use an ice slush with 2 parts ice to 1 part water to keep your catch cold.
  • When you bring seafood home, store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator at a temperature as close to 32 degrees Fahrenheit as possible. Many home refrigerators operate at 40 degree Fahrenheit, so it’s a good idea to put your seafood on ice as well.
  • To store fresh finfish, pack whole dressed fish on ice in the refrigerator. Seal fillets and steaks in plastic bags or containers, then cover them with ice in a pan. Wash fish that is not prepackaged under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Wrap it in moisture-proof paper or plastic wrap or place it in a plastic bag or air-tight container, then place on ice in the refrigerator. Drain the pan and add more ice as necessary. To freeze fresh finfish, wrap it tightly in moisture-proof bags or in plastic wrap and aluminum foil (so the fish won’t dry out) and store it in the freezer.
  • Shellfish, such as mussels, clams, and oysters, that are purchased live in their shells, should be placed in a dry shallow pan, covered with moistened paper towels, and refrigerated. Shucked shellfish can be placed in a sealed container and frozen.
  • Store fresh shrimp, scallops, and squid in a zippered bag or airtight container and refrigerate on ice.
  • Frozen seafood should be kept frozen, and it’s a good idea to date packages of frozen seafood so you can use the older seafood first. Frozen seafood must be thawed properly. It’s best to thaw frozen seafood in the refrigerator overnight. If you’re in a rush, you can also immerse frozen seafood in cold water for a short time in a sealed plastic bag, or microwave it on a defrost setting until the fish is pliable but still icy. Be careful not to overheat the seafood while thawing in the microwave or you will start the cooking process.

Keep it moving

…use fresh fish within 2 days after purchase. Shelf life varies with the species, from as long as 10 days for oysters in the shell to 1 day for fresh squid. See the National Fisheries Institute’s Seafood Storage Guide disclaimer for information on the shelf life of a variety of fresh and frozen seafood.

Keep it clean

chef preparing seafood

…your hands, your work area, your utensils! Also, keep raw seafood away from other raw or cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination. Use cutting boards that are easy to clean - plastic, acrylic, or rubber. Do not use wooden cutting boards for seafood because they are porous and difficult to clean thoroughly. Finally, serve your cooked seafood on clean plates, not on the plate that held the raw product.

Keep informed

A number of excellent resources can provide more in-depth information on properly handling seafood. Some of our favorites include: