How to Safely Process, Store and Prepare Freshly Caught Shellfish

Shellfish is an abundant and delicious source of nutrition, and you can find varieties all around the world in almost any climate.  However, it’s important to follow some basic guidelines to protect yourself and others from getting sick from tainted shellfish.  Here are a few things to look for when harvesting, storing and processing shellfish that you’ve caught.Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 11.39.04 PM

Keep Cool

The most important thing that you can do to avoid food borne illness from shellfish is to store them in the refrigerator or at a temperature below 40 degrees as quickly as possible.  Harvest them, place them in a bucket or container of ice water as quickly as possible and get them home before the water temperature rises.  Give them a good rinse in cold water before placing them in an open container without water.Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 11.39.04 PM

Closed Shells

Initially inspect the shellfish for shells that are cracked open.  Tap the front center of the open shells.  If they close, they are still good.  If they remain open, discard them as they will spoil and become rancid.  Keep in mind that some clams and mollusks do not completely close their shells.  However, you will still notice a difference after the tap test.Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 11.39.04 PM

Shelf Life

A general rule of thumb is that closed shellfish can stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week.  Shellfish that do not fully close their shells should be good for about 2-3 days.  Separate the closed from partially-closed shellfish and place them in their own containers. Place a damp towel or cloth over each container to trap humidity before immediately putting them in the refrigerator.

Shucked shellfish can remain fresh and safe in the refrigerator for up to three days.  Freezing them in a proper freezer bag or container can extend their shelf life up to three months.  Shellfish that has been cooked, whether still in the shell or shucked will remain safe to eat for two days and up to three months in the freezer.  You should cook and eat thawed shellfish within two days after removing from the freezer for maximum freshness and minimal risk.Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 11.39.04 PM


While certain types of raw shellfish are popular to eat, it is risky, and we will only discuss cooked shellfish in this short guide.  Food safety experts recommend that you cook all shellfish to a temperature of at least 145 degrees.  However, there are a number of ways to eyeball when the fish is safe to consume.

Shellfish that has already been shucked should be boiled for at least 3 minutes or fried or baked for 10 minutes.  Fry the meat in oil at a temperature of 375 degrees or bake it at a temperature of 450 degrees for maximum safety.

Most oysters, mussels and clams that are cooked in their shells will open as they are heated.  Most meats will become rather opaque while the edges of oyster meat will crinkle up a little bit when they are ready.  Steaming or boiling them are the best ways to thoroughly cook the meat inside.  Steam for between 5-9 minutes and boil for 3-5 minutes, but start timing it AFTER the shells have opened.

Scallops need between 4-5 minutes, and you will notice that they will turn to a creamy white color and develop a firm texture.  Shrimp need 3-5 and the meat will turn from translucent to a whiteish-pink color. Lobster meat will develop a red tint and needs about 5-6 minutes in the boiler to thoroughly cook.

Remember that shellfish thrive off of the scraps of food that drift to the bottom.  They often contain numerous impurities as well as bacteria that can form after harvesting.  This is why it’s so important to carefully handle, rinse, store and prepare them in order to avoid getting sick.

However, this short guide can help you to gauge when the meat is ready by their color as well as by time.  This can help to ensure that you’ve taken necessary steps to prevent encountering a food-borne illness, which could turn out to be a serious problem during a survival situation.

Finally, keep in mind that you avoid many of these risks by eating the shellfish right after you catch them.  Just make sure you cook them long enough and discard any pieces that may be questionable.

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