How To Protect Yourself When Buying and Eating Seafood
Seafood is an important part of anyone’s diet. Fish are high in protein and low in saturated fat, as well as being a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may promote a healthy heart and improve focus and memory. However, there are also legitimate concerns about the safety of seafood consumption. It’s important to maintain a balanced perspective about the dangers of eating seafood compared to the benefits. A few simple precautions about buying and preparing seafood can make it easy to add this healthy food to your diet safely.
The first area to be careful about is buying fresh seafood. It’s vital that fresh seafood actually be fresh, because older fish may contain toxins such as scombrotoxin. Only buy seafood from a market that appears clean and well maintained. Fish should be on a bed of ice and preferably in a case. If the ice under the fish appears to be melting, buy your fish somewhere else. Look for fish with firm, shiny flesh and no discolorations. The eyes should be clear and should bulge a little–filmy or sunken eyes may indicate fish that has begun to spoil. Fresh fish have a mild aroma. If the fish you’re considering buying smells strongly fishy or like ammonia, pass it by.
When you’re buying frozen fish, you want to avoid fish that has been thawed and refrozen. To do that, make sure there aren’t any ice crystals or frost in the package. You should also make sure the package isn’t torn.
When buying shellfish, only buy those which are still living, as they spoil very quickly after death. For clams, mussels and oysters, check for quality with a tap test–they should close their shell when tapped on a hard surface. For crabs or lobsters, look to make sure you see some leg movement.
Another area to increase your health safety when eating seafood is in the types of fish you choose. Some fish contain mercury, which can be harmful for children and especially for unborn babies. Women who are pregnant, nursing or trying to become pregnant should avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. Other fish varieties are fine in moderation, up to about 12 ounces a week. To be certain of safety, choose fish known to be low in mercury, including shrimp, salmon, pollock or catfish. Canned light tuna is low in mercury, but canned white albacore tuna has a higher mercury content.
Once you’ve purchased fish, it’s important to store it properly to maintain freshness and safety. If you’re going to eat it within two days, you can keep it in the refrigerator. Otherwise, store it in the freezer. When you’re ready to use it, defrost it either in the refrigerator or in a bag submerged in cold water. You may defrost it in the microwave on the defrost setting, but stop while the fish is still slightly frozen.
Be especially careful about cross-contamination with fish. Thoroughly wash all platters, utensils or cutting boards touched by raw fish with hot, soapy water before using them for the cooked fish or for other foods.
When you cook fish, cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily. Eating raw fish has become popular in many areas, but in general, it’s not a safe idea. Raw fish may contain parasites which can be passed on to someone who consumes it. If you decide to eat raw fish, only eat fish which has been previously frozen, as this destroys most parasites. Pregnant women, young children, people with decreased stomach acidity or those with compromised immune systems should not eat raw fish under any circumstances. These groups of people should also avoid refrigerated smoked seafood, which may cause an illness caused listeriosis.