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Properly Handling Shellfish

How to handle shellfish with love

Shellfish are one of Nature’s most perfect foods – healthful, nutritious and delicious. However, if shellfish are not kept cold they can cause illness (like many other raw foods). These tips ensure that the shellfish you serve are as perfect and healthful as Nature intended.

Harvesting Shellfish

Before you set out to “dig your own” there are basic guidelines to follow. The first is to dig in approved waters. The RI Dept. of Environmental Management regulates and manages shellfish growing areas. They monitor water quality for conditions such as bacterial/viral loads and “red tide.” To ensure you are harvesting from approved waters you can check the maps and descriptions at and get updates on closures on the DEM hotline at 401-222-2900. The wild harvest of oysters is prohibited from May 16 – Sept 14 annually.

Transporting Shellfish

Make sure your shellfish stay cold on the trip home. The optimal temperature to preserve flavor and safety is 35° to 45° F. Here are a few options:

  • Keep shellfish on ice, not in water, and in the shade for the trip home.
  • Using a cooler with ice or cold packs is the best choice.

Storing Shellfish

Fresh shellfish can last for several days if properly stored in your refrigerator below 45° F. Freezing shellfish will kill them, and they should not be held in melted ice water. Make sure they are not contaminated by other foods that might drip on them. Allowing shellfish to warm up can allow bacteria to grow, increasing the risk of illness.

Cooking Shellfish

Make sure there are no dead or gaping shellfish, live shellfish will close tightly when tapped. Shellfish should smell fresh – like an ocean breeze. Avoid raw or undercooked shellfish if you are immune compromised*, but fully cooking will eliminate bacteria.

* The elderly, as well as those individuals who suffer from liver disease, diabetes, HIV, or are taking medications that suppress their immune system, can be at risk for serious illness from bacteria that may be associated with raw or undercooked poultry, eggs, hamburger and shellfish (especially in summer). Ask your doctor if you are not sure.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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