Food safety doesn’t take precedence in any one department of the supermarket. It should be treated the same throughout the entire store, and especially so on the fresh perimeter.
But seafood can sometimes scare consumers, who might not be as familiar with certain types of fish and shellfish as they are with a piece of steak or chicken breast. That’s why it is important to stay hyper-vigilant in keeping your seafood as fresh and appealing as possible — not to mention reducing the risk of foodborne illness.
Below are some tips from industry experts, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Fresh fish and shrimp
Fish and shrimp should be either refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice, preferable in a case or under some type of cover. The color of a fish can be affected by numerous factors — think diet, environment, treatment with a color fixative such as carbon monoxide or other packaging processes — so color alone should not be relied upon as an indicator of freshness.
- Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like.
- A fish’s eyes should be clear and shiny.
- Whole fish should have firm flesh and red gills with no odor, while fresh fillets should have firm flesh and red blood lines, or red flesh if fresh tuna. It should spring back when pressed.
- Fish fillets should display no discoloration, darkening, or drying around the edges.
- Shrimp, scallop, and lobster flesh should be clear with a pearl-like color and little or no odor.
- Some refrigerated seafood may have time and temperature indicators on their packaging, which show if the product has been stored at the proper temperature. Always check the indicators when they are present.
These general guidelines can help ease the consumer’s mind while they shop for shellfish
- Label it well. Provide tags on sacks or containers of live shellfish (in the shell) and labels on containers or packages of shucked shellfish. These tags and labels should contain specific information about the product, including the processor’s certification number. This lets shoppers know that the shellfish were harvested and processed in accordance with national shellfish safety controls.
- Discard cracked or broken shellfish: Throw away clams, oysters, and mussels if their shells are cracked or broken.
- Do a ‘tap test’: Live clams, oysters, and mussels will close when the shell is tapped. If they don’t close when tapped, do not display them.
- Check for leg movement. Live crabs and lobsters should show some leg movement. They spoil rapidly after death, so only live crabs and lobsters should be displayed or sold.
While fresh seafood should rightfully get most of your food safety attention, there are a few things to pay attention to when it comes to any frozen product you have on the perimeter. Frozen seafood can spoil if the fish thaws during transport and is left at warm temperatures for too long before cooking.
- Make sure frozen seafood packaging is not open, torn, or crushed on the edges.
- Discard packages with signs of frost or ice crystals, which may mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen.
- Discard packages where the “frozen” fish flesh is not hard. The fish should not be bendable.