Choosing & Preparing A Healthy Dish

Avoiding Food Contamination

Fresh seafood, like many other foods, are more abundant during certain seasons of the year. Your seafood grocer can tell you about seasonal offerings. Your grocer can also indicate the most economical seafood varieties. Always purchase seafood from a grocer that maintains high quality.

Base your seafood purchases on quality. Frozen seafood can be superior in quality to fresh products. Many fish and shellfish are "flash frozen" within hours of harvest. It might take several days for the same seafood to make it to your seafood dealer as "fresh."

Quick Tips To Remember for Safe Seafood

  • Only buy seafood from reputable, commercial sources.
  • Buy only well refrigerated or properly iced seafood products.
  • Once purchased, refrigerate products immediately.
  • For optimal freshness, use seafood products within three days.
  • If you purchase live shellfish (i.e. lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams and mussels), discard any that die during storage.
  • Thaw frozen seafood in the refrigerator or under cold running water, not at room temperature.
  • Marinate seafood in the refrigerator.
  • Prevent cooked seafood products from coming in contact with raw product as well as the cutting boards and utensils used to prepare them.
  • Individuals with weakened immune systems and liver ailments should only enjoy seafood in its many delicious cooked forms.
  • Raw and undercooked seafood should be avoided by individuals with these health concerns.
  • Keep prepared seafood's such as salads refrigerated before serving.
  • Those who fish recreationally should follow state and local government advisories about fish areas and consumption of product from certain areas.

Storing Perishables

  • If seafood, meat or poultry will be used within two days after purchase, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually under the freezer compartment or in a special "meat keeper." Avoid packing it in tightly with other items; allow air to circulate freely around the package. Otherwise, wrap the food tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks and store in the freezer.

  • Discard shellfish, such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams, and mussels, if they die during storage or if their shells crack or break. Live shellfish close up when the shell is tapped. 

Preparing Food

  • Wash hands thoroughly with hot soapy water before and after handling any raw food.

  • Thaw frozen seafood, meat and poultry in the refrigerator. Gradual defrosting overnight is best because it helps maintain quality. If you must thaw food quickly, seal it in a plastic bag and immerse in cold water for about an hour, or microwave on the "defrost" setting if the food is to be cooked immediately. For fish, stop the defrost cycle while the fish is still icy but pliable.

  • Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard the marinade after use because it contains raw juices, which may harbor bacteria. If you want to use the marinade as a dip or sauce, reserve a portion before adding raw food.

  • Do not allow cooked food to come in contact with raw products.

  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils or wash items completely between use. (See "Key Cutting Board Rules.") 


  • Meat must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). Using a meat thermometer is crucial, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says, because research results indicate that some ground meat may prematurely brown before a safe internal temperature has been reached. On the other hand, research findings also show that some ground meat patties cooked to 160 F or above may remain pink inside for a number of reasons; thus the color of meat alone is not considered a reliable indicator of ground beef safety. If eating out, order your ground beef to be cooked well-done. Temperatures for other foods to reach to be safe include: 
    • pork--160 F 
    • whole poultry and thighs--180 F (82 C) 
    • poultry breasts--170 F (77 C) 
    • ground chicken or ground turkey--165 F (74 C)

  • It's always best to cook seafood. It's a must for at-risk people. (See "Who's at Risk?") The Food and Drug Administration's 1997 Food Code recommends cooking most seafood to an internal temperature of 145 F (63 C) for 15 seconds.

  • If you don't have a meat thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done: 
    • For fish, slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull aside. The edges should be opaque and the center slightly translucent with flakes beginning to separate. Let the fish stand three to four minutes to finish cooking. 
    • For shrimp, lobster and scallops, check color. Shrimp and lobster turn red and the flesh becomes pearly opaque. Scallops turn milky white or opaque and firm. 
    • For clams, mussels and oysters, watch for the point at which their shells open. That means they're done. Throw out those that stay closed.

  • When using the microwave, rotate the dish several times to ensure even cooking. Follow recommended standing times. After the standing time is completed, check the seafood in several spots with a meat thermometer to be sure the product has reached the proper temperature.

  • Buy only refrigerated eggs, and keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook and serve them. Cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and white are firm, not runny, and scramble until there is no visible liquid egg. Cook pasta dishes and stuffings that contain eggs thoroughly. Use cooked-base recipes for hollandaise and similar sauces, and do not eat raw eggs or serve food with raw eggs in it, such as homemade eggnog or mayonnaise. Egg dishes or casseroles with eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F. 


  • Keep hot foods hot (140 F [60 C]) or higher and cold foods cold (about 40 F [5 C]) or lower. 
  • Do not keep cooked food unrefrigerated or unfrozen for more than two hours.

Who's at Risk?

People with certain diseases and conditions need to be especially careful to follow safe seafood practices. Their diseases or the medicines they take may put them at risk for serious illness or death from contaminated seafood. 

These conditions include:

  • liver disease, either from excessive alcohol use, viral hepatitis, or other causes 
  • hemochromatosis, an iron disorder 
  • diabetes 
  • stomach problems, including previous stomach surgery and low stomach acid (for example, from antacid use) 
  • cancer 
  • immune disorders, including HIV infection 
  • long-term steroid use, as for asthma and arthritis

Older adults also may be at increased risk because they more often have these conditions. People with these diseases or conditions should never eat raw seafood--only seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.

(Source: National Fisheries Institute,

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Last Editorial Review: 8/13/2002