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Safely Cooking Oysters and Other Molluscan Shellfish





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Image credit: Garry Tucker, USFWS via Flickr

What are some ways to cook shellfish?


Oysters, clams, and mussels can be poached, steamed, boiled, sautéed, stir fried, deep fried, baked, broiled, or grilled. Since most shellfish is smaller and more delicate than fish, they usually cook faster.


How do I cook live (in-shell) oysters, clams, and mussels?


When boiling or steaming live clams, oysters, and mussels, use small pots and do not overload them because the shellfish in the middle may not get fully cooked. Before cooking, throw out any shellfish with open shells that do not close after lightly tapping them with your finger. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends:

  • Boil until shells open and continue boiling for 3 to 5 minutes more, or

  • Place shellfish in pot with boiling water; after shells open, steam for 4 to 9 more minutes.


Discard any shellfish that do not open during cooking.

How do I cook shucked (shells removed) oysters?


The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends cooking shucked shellfish in one of the following ways:

  • Boil or simmer for at least 3 minutes, or until edges curl

  • Broil 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes

  • Deep fry at 375°F for at least 3 minutes

  • Bake (as in oysters Rockefeller) for 10 minutes at 450°F


Shucked shellfish becomes plump and opaque (milky white) when cooked and ready to eat; edges of oysters start to curl. You may need to increase the above cooking times when preparing a large quantity of shellfish or a recipe, like a casserole or stuffing, which includes additional ingredients. Although it may be difficult, checking a few individual oysters to be sure they have reached 145˚F is the best way to ensure a safe eating experience.  For oyster casseroles, stuffing, and recipes with multiple ingredients, cook to an internal temperature of 165˚F. 

What are some other guidelines to ensure a safe eating experience?


Don't forget proper food handling techniques. The following suggestions will help you handle and prepare shellfish (and other seafood) safely:

  • Before starting food preparation, be sure that the preparation area and all surfaces, utensils, pots, containers, and serving dishes are clean.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before preparing food or working with new foods or utensils and after finishing food preparation, handling raw meat or poultry, using the bathroom, changing diapers, petting animals, coughing or sneezing into your hands, blowing your nose, smoking, eating or taking out the garbage.

  • Don't let juices from raw seafood, meat, or poultry come into contact with each other or with other foods, especially cooked or ready-to-eat ones (like lettuce, fresh fruits, or lunch meats).

  • Wash cutting boards, utensils, counters, sinks, and hands with hot, soapy water after preparing raw seafood, meat, or poultry.

  • Keep your fingernails clean, and use clean (laundered) dishwashing cloths and towels. Better yet, use disposable materials (like paper towels) for cleaning, and don't reuse them.

  • Use plastic cutting boards instead of wooden ones, which are porous and more difficult to keep clean. Replace plastic boards with deep cuts in which bacteria can accumulate.

  • Don't taste meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood when they are raw or during cooking.

  • Serve cooked shellfish on a clean plate, never the same, unwashed plate that was used to hold raw product.

  • Discard cooked or raw seafood that has been held at room temperature for 2 or more hours.

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Page last updated: November 5, 2017

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