Shellfish + Foodborne Illness: What You Need to Know to Prevent Sickness
Like any other food, shellfish—including shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops—must be handled and cooked properly so it’s safe to eat.
But, because consuming raw shellfish is common and can do harm to your health, we’re diving into this topic to help you understand the risks and protect yourself from foodborne illness.
WHY EATING RAW SHELLFISH IS DANGEROUS
In general, we at Stop Foodborne Illness advise you NOT to eat uncooked animal meat including shellfish.
Because not cooking it = increased risk that potentially harmful pathogens lurking inside aren’t killed off. And that means a higher chance you may fall ill with Vibrio or Hepatitis A, which can result in nasty health consequences such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and chills, painful abdominal cramping, or more severe illness.
Oftentimes, the warm water habitat of seafood like clams, oysters, and scallops is in areas of high water pollution from nearby cities. As these shellfish feed, they ingest bacteria from the water, which can be dangerous to the health of people who eat the infected seafood.
While we strongly recommend no one eat raw shellfish, people with a higher risk for health complications from food poisoning—including children, pregnant women, mature adults, and people with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems—should absolutely never, ever eat raw shellfish, sushi, or any other kinds of raw meat.
HOW TO SAFELY EAT SHELLFISH
Now, let’s cover some basics on how to enjoy shellfish that’s safe to eat.
Rule #1: Don’t cook or eat shellfish that have died during storage.
Open shells indicate the shellfish are dead. These are NOT edible. Dead shellfish rapidly spoil, have “off” odors, and could be harmful to your health.
Rule #2: Keep things clean.
Keep your hands clean: Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before preparing and after handling raw seafood.
Keep your utensils, cutting boards, and counters clean: Wash any of these items that have come in contact with raw seafood with hot, soapy water before they come in contact with cooked seafood.
Rule #3: Avoid cross-contamination.
Whether in the fridge or during food prep, don’t let raw meat/juices from shellfish touch other ready-to-eat foods. And never put cooked foods on the same plate that still has juices on it from raw seafood (make sure it’s been cleaned thoroughly).
Rule #4: Cook shellfish thoroughly to safe temperatures.
For fish and shellfish, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) advises to cook these foods to a minimum safe internal temperature of 145°F.
Rule #5: Store shellfish safely.
When storing shellfish, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends putting it on ice or in the fridge/freezer immediately after purchasing it. If you’ll be eating it within two days after you purchase it, store in the fridge. Beyond two days, wrap it tightly in foil and store in the freezer.
IF YOU THINK YOU’RE SICK
Think you may have food poisoning from shellfish or some other food?
Click here for our list of exactly what to do.
Thanks in advance for helping us spread the food safety word!