With Lenten season upon us, many are incorporating more fish into their diets. Even if religious beliefs don’t dictate it, choosing fish and seafood is a mouth-watering way to add some spark and flare to our weekly menus.
When buying fresh fish and shrimp, the Food and Drug Administration has several guidelines to follow to ensure food safety:
• Only buy fish that is refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice (preferably in a case or under some type of cover). Because the color of a fish can be affected by several factors including diet, environment, treatment with a color fixative such as carbon monoxide or other packaging processes, color alone is not 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. Fresh fillets should have firm flesh and red blood lines, or red flesh if fresh tuna. The flesh 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/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 and only buy the seafood if the indicator shows that the product is safe to eat.
• Fresh fish and fish fillets sold as “Previously Frozen” may not have all the characteristics of fresh fish (e.g., bright eyes, firm flesh, red gills, flesh or bloodlines), however, they should still smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or rancid.
When selecting shellfish, follow these general guidelines:
• Look for the label: Look for tags on sacks or containers of live shellfish (in the shell) and labels on containers or packages of shucked shellfish. These tags and labels contain specific information about the product, including the processor’s certification number. This means that the shellfish were harvested and processed in accordance with national shellfish safety controls.
• Discard cracked/broken ones: Throw away clams, oysters and mussels if their shells are cracked or broken.
Frozen seafood can spoil if the fish thaws during transport and is left at warm temperatures for too long before cooking. Don’t buy frozen seafood if its package is open, torn or crushed on the edges, and avoid packages with signs of frost or ice crystals, which may mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen.
When storing, put seafood on ice or in the refrigerator or freezer soon after buying it. If seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees or below. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check. Otherwise, wrap it tightly in plastic, foil or moisture-proof paper and store it in the freezer.
For more information about proper seafood selection, storage and preparation, visit fda.gov.