Americans are hooked – on seafood, that is! The wide variety of seafood on the market today coupled with fish’s potential nutritional benefits highlighted recently in the media are causing consumers to heed health experts’ advice and incorporate seafood into their diets.
Despite the fact that Colorado is a landlocked state, fresh seafood is readily available for purchase in many local grocery stores and markets. As with any fresh-food product, it is important to know how to select, store and cook seafood safely.
Although many state and federal agencies as well as food processors and distributors work diligently to ensure that seafood sold in the United States is safe, it is still important for consumers to take an active role in seafood safety from purchase to preparation. Follow these guidelines and become savvy about seafood safety.
– Always buy seafood from a reputable source. For example, be wary of vendors selling fish from a pickup truck. Ask to see the certified product tags if you have concerns.
– Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish if you are serving pregnant women, nursing moms or young children. These large fish are known to contain high levels of mercury that may be damaging to the developing baby’s nervous system. Commonly eaten fish known to be low in mercury include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.
– Do not buy cooked seafood if it is displayed in the same case next to raw fish because cross-contamination can occur.
– Fresh fish should have a mild "fresh ocean breeze" smell, rather than an unpleasant "fishy" smell.
– The eyes of fresh whole fish should be clear and bulge slightly. Scales should not be slimy and should cling to the skin. Gills should be bright pink or red and also should be free of slime.
– Fresh fish steaks and fillets should be moist, with no drying or darkening around the edges of the fish.
– When purchasing fresh, whole shellfish, make sure they are alive. Clams, oysters and mussels that are alive will have tightly closed shells or will tightly close their shells when tapped. Lobsters, crabs and crayfish move their legs when alive.
– Store fresh fish or seafood in the coldest part of your refrigerator in airtight containers or cling wrap and use within two days of purchase. If this is not possible, wrap in freezer paper or foil and freeze for later use.
– Store live shellfish, lobsters and crabs in containers covered loosely with a clean, damp cloth.
– Discard shellfish, such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams and mussels, if they die during storage or if their shells crack or break.
– Always keep raw seafood and cooked seafood separate when preparing to avoid cross-contamination.
– Marinate seafood in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard leftover marinade.
– Cook seafood to an internal temperature of 145? Fahrenheit.
– Wash and sanitize all items, such as knives and cutting boards that come in contact with raw seafood products before using with other foods.
For more information about seafood safety, contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit their Web site at www.cfsan.fda.gov/seafood1.html.
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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension