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There are a number of things for consumers to consider when purchasing high-quality seafood. First, it’s important to buy seafood from reputable dealers - those with a known record of safe handling practices – and avoid roadside stands. And since seafood is highly perishable, purchase it last. Make sure the raw juices from seafood do not drip on other foods, especially those that will be eaten without further cooking. (Bacteria in the raw juices can cause cooked foods to spoil, and since these foods are already cooked, there won’t be any chance for the bacteria to be destroyed.) You can avoid cross-contamination in your shopping cart by enclosing individual packages of seafood in plastic bags.
When purchasing seafood, the word “fresh” generally refers to seafood that has not been frozen. Yet “frozen” does not have a bad connotation. Frozen seafood can be superior in quality to fresh seafood, so base your purchase on product quality. (Products labeled “fresh frozen” indicate the seafood was frozen while it was fresh, in many instances within hours of harvest. If fishery products were frozen and thawed for retail sale they should be labeled “previously frozen.”)
Buying Frozen Seafood
Commercially frozen fish is quickly frozen at its peak freshness. Consumers can now find a wide choice of top-quality and wholesome seafood in the freezer case. When properly thawed, frozen fish is comparable to fish that was never frozen. Both exhibit the qualities of freshness described previously. Frozen fish and shellfish should be packaged in a close-fitting, moisture-proof package. Select packages from below the load line of the freezer case. Look for packages that still have their original shape and the wrapping intact with little or no visible ice. Seafood should be frozen solid with no signs of freezer burn, such as discoloration or drying on the surface, and have no objectionable odor. The same guidelines apply for frozen prepared seafood, such as crab cakes, breaded shrimp, or fish sticks. Do not allow the package to defrost during transportation. When properly thawed, frozen fish can be comparable to fish that was never frozen.
Whatever the variety, whole fish have certain characteristics that indicate freshness. They should have bright, clear, full eyes that are often protruding. As the fish loses freshness, the eyes become cloudy, pink, and sunken. The gills should be bright red or pink. Avoid fish with dull-colored gills that are gray, brown, or green. Fresh fish should be free of loose or sloughing slime
The flesh should be firm yet elastic, springing back when pressed gently with the finger. With time, the flesh becomes soft and slips away from the bone. The skin of a fresh, whole fish should be shiny with scales that adhere tightly. Characteristic colors and markings start to fade as soon as a fish leaves the water, but the skin should still have a bright, shiny appearance.
Fish Fillets or Steaks
Note that fillets and steaks should have firm, elastic flesh and a fresh-cut, moist appearance, with no browning around the edges. Fillets separate if they are left too long in the case. The flesh should be almost translucent – as if you can almost see through it. There should be little evidence of bruising or reddening of the flesh from retention of blood. Prepackaged steaks and fillets should contain a minimum of liquid. Fish fillets stored in liquid deteriorate quickly.
They may be sold live, cooked, or fresh-shucked. Each form and species has different quality signs to examine. Live clams, oysters, or mussels should have shells that look moist and are tightly closed. If the shells gape slightly, have your retailer tap them. If the shells do not close or are cracked, do not purchase them. The bottom shell of an oyster should be well cupped – a sign that the oyster inside is plump and well formed. The "neck" or "snout" of soft-shelled clams should show movement. The meats of fresh-shucked clams, oysters, or mussels should be plump and covered with their liquor. Their liquor should be clear or slightly opalescent (slightly milky or light gray) and free of shell or grit. There should be no strong odor.
Typically scallops are shucked at sea shortly after capture. On occasion, day boats will bring whole scallops to market or local restaurants. Fresh scallop meats have a firm texture and a distinctly sweet odor. A sour or iodine smell indicates spoilage. The smaller bay and calico scallops are usually creamy white, although there may be some normal light tan or pink coloration. The larger sea scallops are also generally creamy white, although they may show some normal light orange or pink color.
Live crabs and lobsters
should show leg movement, and the tail of lobsters should curl tightly underneath the body and not hang down when the lobster is picked up. Lobsters and crabs will not be very active if they have been refrigerated, but they should move at least a little bit. Cooked lobsters or crabs in the shell should be bright red and have no disagreeable odor. Picked lobster meat will be snowy white with red tints, while crab meat is white with red or brown tints, depending on the species or the section of the body it was picked from. Cooked, picked lobster or crab meat should have good color and no disagreeable odor.
should be firm and have a mild odor. The shells of most varieties are translucent with a grayish green, pinkish tan, or light pink tint. Cooked shrimp meat should be firm and have no disagreeable odor. The color of the meat should be white with red or pink tints. Tiger shrimp have bluish colored shells with black lines between the segments of the shell (these are not black spots).
There are some safety considerations that consumers should be aware of before they select the types of seafood products they intend to eat. For example, individuals need to be aware of any allergies that they might have to specific types of fish, shellfish (clams, oysters) or crustaceans (shrimp, lobsters, crab). Finfish and crustaceans are two of the eight key allergens that account for 90% of allergic responses from food. Since proper cooking and handling will not remove the allergenic properties of the food, it is necessary for consumers to avoid the food of concern.