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Safely Storing Oysters and Other Molluscan Shellfish




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PHP Oysters


How should I store live oysters, clams, and mussels?


Live (without shells removed) shellfish should not be stored in air-tight containers or bags since the animals may die from lack of oxygen. They can be loosely covered with clean, damp paper towels or cloths to prevent them from drying out in the refrigerator. Store live shellfish above raw meat, or poultry, so juices don't drip on them. Do not store live shellfish directly on ice, since the melting fresh water may kill them.

At what temperature should I store live shellfish?

Optimum storage temperature is 41° F or below, but temperatures of 35°F or lower (especially freezing temperatures less than 32°F) can kill shellfish. Use an accurate refrigerator thermometer to check and adjust the temperature of your refrigerator.

What about live shellfish that I harvest myself?

Remove excess dirt by swishing in approved harvest water or rinsing with potable water. Refrigerate them as soon as possible, within 90 minutes during hot weather, and follow the guidelines mentioned above. Be sure to only harvest shellfish from approved waters (please refer to section

about self-harvesting here).

How long can I keep live shellfish?


Generally, it's best to eat them within one or two days (assuming they are kept refrigerated), but definitely before they die. Check for signs of life before preparing for consumption, and discard any dead shellfish (those with shells that do not close after lightly tapping them). Dead shellfish may contain high numbers of bacteria that could make you ill; don't eat them raw or cooked.

​​How long can I keep shucked (shells removed) shellfish?


Temperatures below 35°F will minimize bacterial growth and help shucked shellfish stay fresh longer, usually 4 to 7 days or by the "use by" date printed on containers. Refrigerator temperatures greater than 40°F will decrease shelf life.

At what temperature should I store frozen shellfish?


Frozen shellfish should be stored at 0°F or lower.

​​Can I freeze shellfish at home?


Once shells are removed, shellfish can be placed in shallow, water-proof containers and stored in home freezers. Freezer temperature should be kept below 0°F. Since freezing does not improve seafood quality, only fresh, high-quality shellfish should be frozen. Do not freeze old shucked shellfish that should be discarded. Never shuck and freeze dead shellfish.

How should I thaw frozen shellfish?


Frozen shellfish should be thawed in the refrigerator, not at room temperatures.

How should I store leftover, cooked shellfish?


Refrigerate cooked, leftover shellfish as soon as possible and eat them within one or two days. Discard cooked shellfish that has been held at room temperature for two hours or more. For buffets, hot foods should be maintained at temperatures above 140°F, and dishes of cold shellfish can be nestled in a bed of ice to keep them at temperatures below 40°F.

​​How long can I keep canned shellfish?


Canned shellfish that does not require refrigeration may be stored for a year or longer, as long as the can is not dented or rusty. Cans (of any food) that are swollen or bloated may contain life-threatening bacteria and should be discarded.

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Page last updated: November 4, 2017

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