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SafeOysters.org - Consumers

Vibrio vulnificus

Infection from Consumption of Raw
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Safely Storing Oysters and Other Molluscan Shellfish

How should I store live oysters, clams, and mussels?

Live (without shells removed) shellfish should never be stored in air-tight containers or bags since the animals can die from lack of oxygen. They can be loosely covered with clean, damp paper towels or cloths to prevent them from drying out in the refrigerator. Store live shellfish above raw meat, or poultry, so juices don't drip on them. Do not store live shellfish directly on ice, since the melting fresh water may kill them.

At what temperature should I store live shellfish

Optimum storage temperature is below 40F, but temperatures of 35F or lower (especially freezing temperatures less than 32F) can kill shellfish. Use an accurate refrigerator thermometer to check and adjust the temperature of your refrigerator.

What about live shellfish that I harvest myself?

Refrigerate them as soon as possible, within 90 minutes during hot weather, and follow the guidelines mentioned above. Be sure to only harvest shellfish from approved waters (please refer to section about self-harvesting on the "Safely Buying Oysters and Other Molluscan Shellfish" webpage ).

How long can I keep live shellfish?

Generally, it's best to eat them within one or two days (assuming they are kept refrigerated), but definitely before they die. Check for signs of life before preparing for consumption, and discard any dead shellfish (those with shells that do not close after lightly tapping them). Dead shellfish may contain high numbers of bacteria that could make you ill; don't eat them raw or cooked.

How long can I keep shucked (shells removed) shellfish?

Temperatures below 35F will minimize bacterial growth and help shucked shellfish stay fresh longer, usually 4 to 7 days or by the "use by" date printed on containers. Refrigerator temperatures greater than 40F will decrease shelf life.

At what temperature should I store frozen shellfish?

Frozen shellfish should be stored at 0F or lower.

Can I freeze shellfish at home?

Once shells are removed, shellfish can be placed in shallow, water-proof containers and stored in home freezers. Freezer temperature should be kept below 0F. Since freezing does not improve seafood quality, only fresh, high-quality shellfish should be frozen. Do not freeze old shucked shellfish that should be discarded. Never shuck and freeze dead shellfish.

How should I thaw frozen shellfish?

Frozen shellfish should be thawed in the refrigerator, not at room temperatures.

How should I store leftover, cooked shellfish?

Refrigerate cooked, leftover shellfish as soon as possible and eat them within one or two days. Discard cooked shellfish that has been held at room temperature for two hours or more. For buffets, hot foods should be maintained at temperatures above 140F, and dishes of cold shellfish can be nestled in a bed of ice to keep them at temperatures below 40F.

How long can I keep canned shellfish?

Canned shellfish that does not require refrigeration may be stored for a year or longer, as long as the can is not dented or rusty. Cans (of any food) that are swollen or bloated may contain life-threatening bacteria and should be discarded.

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Updated: 3/13/2009 - Send comments or questions to:web editor.