Seafood in Your Diet
Food Safety: Handling of Products
(Adapted from A Consumer’s Guide to Maryland Seafood)
Fresh crab meat
- Fresh crab meat should be stored on ice or in the coldest part of your refrigerator and used within a few days.
- Freezing fresh crab meat is not recommended. The delicate flavor of crab meat is lost easily when frozen.
- Crab meat may be frozen in a mixed form, such as in crab cakes.
Pasteurized crab meat
- Pasteurized crab meat is a high quality product available year-round. It is preferred to freezing as a storage method for crab meat.
- Pasteurized crab meat has been hermetically sealed in a can. It can be stored for several months in the coldest part of your refrigerator. It should not be kept in a freezer.
- When opened, keep refrigerated and use within several days.
Soft shell crabs
- Live or cleaned soft shell crabs should be refrigerated in a moist environment and can be kept this way for up to two days.
- Soft shell crabs must be cleaned before cooking.
- Unlike hard crabs, soft shell crabs keep their flavor even after freezing. Wrapped tightly or in an airtight container, they can be kept frozen for several months.
- To thaw soft shell crabs, place in a pan of cool water in your refrigerator.
For optimum quality, use both shucked oysters and oysters in the shell within two to three days of purchase.
- Shell Oysters should be kept cool, damp, and well-ventilated in your refrigerator.
- Oysters need air to prevent spoiling. Do not store them in airtight containers or plastic bags.
- Shucked Oysters should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator.
- Shucked oysters keep better if packed in “oyster liquor,” the natural fluids that surround the oyster in its shell.
- Shucked oysters may be frozen in a freezer-safe container by allowing one inch of air space above the oysters in the container.
Soft Shell Clams
- Keep clams well ventilated and in the refrigerator.
- Do not store them in airtight containers or plastic bags as they need air to prevent spoiling.
- Shucked clams should be stored as any other fish or meat product; in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
Maryland Finfish & Shellfish
- Store fish in coldest part of refrigerator.
- If it is to be used within one day, leave fish in store wrapper. For longer storage, fish should be wrapped airtight.
- Frozen fish should be allowed to defrost in the refrigerator for at least one day.
- Don’t leave raw or uncooked seafood out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours.
- Keep raw and cooked seafood separate to prevent cross contamination.
- Before cooking, rinse seafood in cold water to remove any surface bacteria.
- Marinate fresh fish or shellfish in the refrigerator. Always discard marinade after use.
- Always wash hands, counters, utensils, cutting boards, and plates with hot soapy water after handling uncooked seafood.
- There are various risks to be aware of when consuming seafood products. It is, however, important to recognize that Maryland has one of the most extensive seafood safety systems in the country. This safety system is a coordinated effort by the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene, Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture. These agencies monitor and test the water, fish and shellfish, as well as seafood processing plants. Be sure to stay updated with local advisories about the safety of fish caught in local waterways.
Current advice from the federal government and health organizations recommends eating two seafood meals each week. The medical community asserts that the benefits of eating seafood outweigh any potential hazards. Nonetheless, it is important to know what kinds of risks you could potentially be facing when consuming Maryland seafood:
Mercury is a natural element found in trace amounts in all fish. The highest levels of mercury are found in large, carnivorous fish like sharks, swordfish, and large tuna, all of which should be consumed with caution.
Fish, crabs, clams, and oysters caught in Maryland are very low in mercury and can be eaten without the risk of the negative health consequences associated with high amounts of mercury consumption.
Mycobacetrium marinum is a slow-growing bacterium that may cause disease in fish and people. The bacteria have been found in the Chesapeake Bay and other Maryland waterways, but this should not be reason for too much concern. While Myco can sometimes cause disease in fish, they rarely do in people. Most cases of infection in people come as a result of cleaning fish tanks.
Myco cannot be acquired from the consumption of infected fish, however it is generally recommended to avoid eating any fish with lesions or nodules of any kind.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins are organic pollutants that can accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals. Studies suggest that these pollutants are cancer-causing agents that can affect the immune and nervous systems.
The state of Maryland has issued a state-wide freshwater advisory for PCBs, but barring a specific advisory, Maryland seafood can be consumed safely.
Vibrio is a naturally occurring saltwater bacterium that is generally associated with eating undercooked seafood and exposure to Vibrio-infected waters. Nutrient levels and heat play a large part in the presence of Vibrio in the water.
The risk of contracting a Vibrio disease from consuming Maryland seafood is very low, but it is important to be cautious when consuming raw seafood. Those with weakened immune systems should avoid eating any raw seafood.
- Contaminants tend to build up in predators and bottom feeding fish. For this reason, it is important to vary the kinds of seafood you choose, as well as the size and age of the same species.
- Many contaminants and chemicals build up in the fat of fish. Avoiding the belly flap, skin, and dark meat of the fish (areas where fat is concentrated) can help reduce hazard of exposure. Boiling, grilling, and baking fish on a rack allows fat to drip away and reduce the risk, as well.
- When eating crabs, you can minimize your exposure to contaminants by discarding the “mustard” of the crab.
It is agreed upon by the medical community that eating seafood 2-3 times a week has many unique health benefits. The seafood that comes from the Chesapeake Bay and other Maryland waterways contains many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are essential for human health.
- Blue Crabs
Maryland Blue Crab meat is good for more than just its famous, delicious flavor; it has many nutritional benefits, as well. Crab meat is a good source of Vitamin B12, Phosphorus, Zinc, Copper, Calcium, Selenium, and Iron, and provides high quality protein. While it is true that a serving of blue crab meat contains almost 1/3 of the daily recommendation for dietary cholesterol, saturated fats are more responsible for raising blood cholesterol levels and blue crab meat is very low in saturated fat.
Oysters are good for both the health of the Bay and for the health of the human body. Whether eaten cooked or raw, they are packed with Iron, Zinc, Selenium, Magnesium, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, and protein. Oyster shells have been used in Chinese medicine to treat a variety of ailments, like hypertension and heart palpitations.
Looking for a good source of iron? Clams contain more iron than beef! Additionally, they are high in protein, Vitamin B12, and Omega 3 fatty acids.