Rich in vitamins and minerals, seafood is also a good source of protein for your family. But because raw seafood may carry bacteria and other germs that can make you sick, there are things you should know and do to keep everyone safe. Here are some tips to help you shop for, store, and cook seafood as well as clean and sanitize the surfaces it has touched.

Sanitize the shopping cart handle

Lots of bad things may be lurking on the handle of that shopping cart, so take advantage of those free sanitizer wipes found near most carts and wipe it down. There’s no sense taking the risk of carrying someone else’s germs home with you.

Make the seafood department one of your last stops when shopping.

Make it part of your shopping routine to get all your non-perishable items first and at the end, pick up things like seafood, eggs and poultry – that way they’re more likely to stay safely chilled until you get home.

Make sure the seafood is fresh.

You should make sure your seafood is as fresh as possible. Here are some ways to tell if it’s still fresh or not.

Feature Fresh Fish Spoiled Fish
Color Bright, shiny skin Dull, dry skin
Odor Mild ocean or seaweed smell Strong fishy or ammonia smell
Texture Firm flesh that springs
back when touched
Soft flesh that leaves an imprint
when touched
Packaging Packaging that is intact & clean Packaging that is torn, dirty
or has broken seals
Feature Fresh Shellfish Spoiled Shellfish
Odor Mild ocean or seaweed smell
(shellfish, shrimp, crab & lobster)
Strong fishy smell (shellfish,
shrimp, crab & lobster)
Shells Clean and unbroken (shellfish) Very muddy or broken shells
Condition Shells close when tapped, showing
that the shellfish are alive
Shells do not close when tapped,
showing that the shellfish are dead

One more tip: When you’re buying frozen seafood, such as a bag of shrimp, make sure there are no large ice crystals on the food or the packaging. That’s a sign that the food has thawed and was refrozen. While thawed, bacteria may have had a chance to grow and it could still make you or your family sick.

Buy seafood before the “sell-by” date.

The sell-by date on a package of seafood lets store employees know how long they have to sell it. While the date is based on quality, the USDA recommends that you buy raw seafood before the sell-by date.

Bag raw seafood before placing it into your cart.

The seafood department usually provides disposable plastic bags. Be sure to use them for your packages of fish and other seafood to keep their juices from leaking onto your other groceries.

Store raw seafood away from other food in your cart.

Don’t put packages of raw seafood on top of ready-to-eat food such as produce, bread, or deli items. That’s asking for trouble. Try putting it on the bottom of the cart where you put your cases of water or soda.

Sanitize your hands after touching raw seafood.

It’s a good idea to use a little hand sanitizer after touching packages of raw seafood. It will help prevent you from spreading bacteria to other food and surfaces in the store. Before shopping, put a small bottle in your pocket or purse.

Bag seafood safely when using the self-checkout.

If you’re bagging your own groceries, make sure you don’t bag raw seafood with ready-to-eat food. Otherwise that salmon you just bought could end up leaking onto your apples or grapes. And always double-bag packages of raw seafood. That second bag might just stop a leak and keep you or your family from getting sick.

Keep seafood cool on the car ride home.

Make sure seafood isn’t exposed to high temperatures during the car ride home, especially during summer months! Get in the habit of storing seafood in insulated shopping bags or an old-fashioned ice chest. If you can, store seafood inside the car rather than in the trunk – during summer, trunks get very hot, very quickly.

Keep your shopping route as short as possible.

When you’re done buying groceries, go home and put them away. Running other errands after shopping is sure to put your food at risk. If you have a lot to do, do it all before you shop for food.

Refrigerate seafood as fast as possible.

Get your groceries from the car and the seafood into the refrigerator as quickly as you can. Leaving it out gives bacteria a chance to grow and that increases the odds of you or your family getting sick.

Store seafood at the correct temperature.

Your refrigerator should be set to hold food at an internal temperature of 40°F (4°C) or lower. That’s very important for seafood! It’s a good idea to check the temperature of a piece of fish once in a while. You’ll need a thermometer to do it. If the temperature is above 40°F (4°C), lower the temperature of your refrigerator.

Store safely

Label leftover seafood before storing it.

Labeling leftovers will help you know when to toss them. Leftover seafood and seafood dishes kept at 40°F (4°C) or lower can be used for up to seven days before they must be thrown out. The count begins the day you store the leftovers so Saturday’s delicious shrimp Alfredo should be safe to eat until Friday.

Store raw seafood away from other food.

Never let raw seafood juices drip onto other food in your refrigerator. Put raw seafood in a closed container. A pan will work as long as it’s covered with plastic wrap. Or, put it into a re-sealable food storage bag. Want an even better solution? Buy a food-storage container with a lid and use it only for raw seafood. And last but not least, it’s always a good idea to store raw seafood on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator.

Don’t thaw seafood at room temperature.

Your mom probably did it, and your grandma probably did, too. But thawing food on the counter is one family tradition you should end. If seafood is thawed at room temperature, any bacteria on it will grow. The longer the seafood sits out, the more likely the bacteria will grow to unsafe levels and make you or your family sick. See the General Food Safety section for different ways to thaw food safely.

Keep raw and ready-to-eat food separate.

When cooking, you should keep things separate. That’s really important when you’re preparing seafood (such as fish) and food that will not be cooked, such as lettuce. About the worst thing you can do is use the same cutting board for both these items. That one mistake can make people sick. That's because blood and other juices from the fish will end up on the lettuce. Pick up some colored cutting boards – some even come with colored knives. Typically, you see them in sets of red, green, yellow, and blue – each color is meant to be used for a different type of food: blue for raw seafood only, red for raw meat, yellow for raw poultry, and the green for produce. Add a white cutting board for cooked food and you’re well on your way to preventing the spread of bacteria in your kitchen.

Cook Seafood Safely

Wash your hands after handling raw seafood.

This is especially important to do before handling ready-to-eat food. See the General Food Safety section for some hand washing tips that will help keep your family safe.

Cook raw seafood to the correct temperature.

The only way to kill bacteria on seafood is to cook it to the correct temperature. That’s the internal temperature of the food, not the temperature of whatever you’re using to cook it. You’ll need a thermometer to do this correctly. Seafood – including fish, shellfish, shrimp, and lobster – must be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C) and must stay at that temperature for at least 15 seconds. See the General Food Safety section for tips on how to use thermometers correctly.

Never leave cooked seafood out for long periods of time.

After dinner, you’d think you’re in the clear to take a bit of a break, right? Wrong. All too often, people make the mistake of letting the evening meal sit at room temperature for an hour or more. Bad idea. Cooking food does not always kill all of the bacteria on it. So any that remains may grow, especially if it’s left at room temperature and the next thing you know, you or your family is sick.

It's OK to put small amounts of seafood, such as a piece of fish, directly into the refrigerator to cool. But think twice about putting thicker seafood dishes, like a warm batch of jambalaya, directly into the refrigerator. A better idea would be to transfer the food into plastic storage bags and then put them in a clean sink full of cold water. Adding ice to the water will cool the food down even faster, preventing any bacteria from growing. One last warning: When serving seafood buffet-style for a dinner party, make sure it doesn’t sit out for more than four hours. Once it’s been four hours, throw it out!

Reheat seafood to the correct temperature. 

As long as it will be eaten right away, you can reheat leftover seafood to any temperature you like. But if you are planning to keep the seafood warm and serve it buffet style, you MUST reheat it to at least 165°F (74°C) – and it can’t take longer than two hours to get it from cold to that hot.

This is important, so here’s an example: Let’s say you want to reheat a large batch of jambalaya for dinner. Because you’ll be eating it immediately, you can heat it to any temperature you wish. But what if you’re going to reheat that delicious dish and then serve it in a crockpot at a family party? In that case, your jambalaya must be reheated to at least 165°F (74°C) within two hours.


Clean and sanitize after preparing raw seafood.

Clean SafelyClean Safely

Don’t just clean, be committed to sanitizing too! You might not want to take the time, but it’s an important step in keeping you and your family safe. Any equipment used to prepare seafood must be washed, rinsed, and sanitized. That includes your countertops, knives, cutting boards, and tongs. A rinse or wipe down does no good and will only put you and others at risk. See the General Food Safety section to find out how to clean and sanitize safely – it can be quick and easy.