How can I make sure my seafood is fresh?

Seafood is surprisingly easy to cook at home. However, many people choose not to cook at home, as the majority of seafood is consumed in restaurants. This is, in some part, because many people are concerned that they will not get fresh seafood when they buy it themselves, and they are afraid of wasting their time and money on spoiled seafood.

To be fair, it can be challenging to buy fresh seafood from a market, let alone online. While you can’t do anything about a lot of the bad seafood available for sale out there, you can learn how to determine for yourself whether the seafood you encounter is that which you should buy or not. We’ll first talk about general rules for how fresh seafood should look and feel, and then move onto how to judge the freshness of particular varieties of seafood.


You might think it’s impossible to tell at a glance whether seafood is spoiled or not, but there are a couple tell-tale signs that you can look out for. If you’re buying whole fish, their eyes should be clear and not cloudy. They should also bulge a little. Whole fish should also have shiny meat and bright red gills. If there’s any kind of opaque discharge there, you’ll want to stay away. In general, shrimp and other raw fish should be almost translucent, and any shellfish should have intact shells that aren’t crushed or damaged. Additionally, look out for discoloring like darkening and drying around the edges of fillets.


Contrary to how we might imagine a fish market to smell, fresh fish should have very little odor to them at all, and this is something that’s pretty much across the board for all types of seafood. Anything with a very strong fishy, sour, or ammonia like odor, is probably spoiled, or at least not very fresh. Note that this can apply to frozen fish, as well.

Now to the specific types of seafood.

Clams and mussels

When you’re buying clams and mussels, one thing you’ll want to do is make sure that they’re still alive when you buy them. You can tell this by looking to see if their shells are closed tightly. If they’re not, you can tap the outside of their shell to check if they’re still alive. They should contract tightly. Mollusks, like clams and mussels, also give off a sweet smell while they are fresh.


Similar to clams and mussels, live oysters will close their shells tightly, which is ideal if you’re buying them live. Otherwise, you can buy oysters that are freshly shucked in pints or gallons. These should be plump, they should have a creamy color and they should be in a clear liquid. Fresh oysters can last about a week in the refrigerator, as long as they’re packed in ice. Freezing oysters at home is not recommended, as they freeze a little too slowly for most conventional freezers to preserve them correctly.


Like oysters, you can buy crab fresh, or just as shelled meat which can either be fresh or pasteurized. If you’re buying live crabs, make sure that they show movement. They should have a moist appearance and, like fish, they shouldn’t have a strong or unpleasant odor. If you’re buying crab meat, it should also be free of a strong odor, and you will have to use it within two days of buying it to preserve its freshness. Pasteurized and fresh crab meat both have to be kept in refrigeration.


Lobsters are something that you should only buy live, as their meat spoils very quickly after they die and can’t be kept very well. One thing to make sure of is that the lobsters you buy are lively and move quickly. If they are sluggish, it might mean that they are sick or dying, which will make them taste pretty bad. Lobster can be frozen, but you have to make sure that it freezes entirely. Nowadays, you can even buy live lobsters online.


Fresh shrimp should have a firm texture and a mild smell. Most shrimp, however (a staggering 98%), are sold frozen. Raw shrimp that has been shelled and beheaded is the better type to buy, as it is typically of a higher quality than the type that is cooked and then frozen.

Safety tips

When you’re thawing seafood, make sure to either leave it in the refrigerator overnight or, if you’re in a hurry, run it under cold water for ten to twenty minutes. If you plan on eating raw seafood, such as in sushi, one thing that you can do is to eat a selection that has been previously frozen, as this can kill some (but not all) microorganisms that may be in it.

By keeping these tips in mind, you can ensure that you are choosing seafood that is fresh, whether you buy fresh seafood online, or in the market.

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