How to Love Live Seafood Safely

How to Love Live Seafood Safely

crab and mallet


By Emelia Stiverson, MS, guest blogger

Growing up in Maryland, I remember many nights when my parents “set the table for dinner” by covering it in newspaper and laying out wooden mallets and knives. To some, this may seem like an odd family tradition. However, this is a familiar ritual to anyone who has ever feasted on hard shell crabs. Although cooking with live seafood may seem daunting, these tips will allow any seafood-lover the ability to select, store, and serve live crabs and other seafood safely.

Select Your Shellfish

  • Check the label: Harvesters and processors of oysters, clams and mussels are required to put a tag on sacks or containers of live shellfish. These tags have the certification number for the processor and other information, which indicates that the shellfish were harvested and processed in accordance with national shellfish safety controls.
  • Discard cracked or broken ones: Throw away clams, oysters, and mussels if their shells are cracked or broken.
  • Do a “tap test”: Live clams, oysters, and mussels will close when the shell is tapped. If not, they might be dead and should be tossed out.
  • Look alive: Live lobsters should be active and will curl their tails when picked up. Live crabs should show some leg movement.


Keep Shellfish Fresh

  • Live lobsters can be kept in an open container such as a cardboard box in your fridge. Pack with seaweed or damp newspaper to keep them moist but not wet. Never store them on ice or in tap water, as fresh water will kill them. Live lobsters can be kept for one day when stored properly.
  • Live mussels, clams, and oysters can be loosely covered with clean, damp paper towels or cloths to prevent them from drying out in the fridge. Storing on seaweed or ice isn’t recommended. Live oysters should be cooked within 7 to 10 days. Live mussels and clams should be prepared within 4 to 5 days.
  • Live crabs can be set into an ice chest and covered with burlap or a towel soaked in salt water. Place ice on the burlap or towel to keep them cool and damp until you are ready to cook them. Live crabs will remain alive for approximately 6 to 8 hours.


Time to Feast
These signs will let you know your seafood is fully-cooked and ready to be enjoyed:

  • Lobsters will be bright red and the tails will curl when they are done.
  • Clams, mussels and oysters in the shell will open when cooked. Toss any shellfish that don’t open during cooking.
  • Crabs will turn bright orange when they are done. Planning an upcoming crab feast? Check out  this recipe and tips for how to “pick” cooked crabs and get out every last bit of meat.


TELL ME: What’s your go-to recipe for preparing live seafood?


Emelia Stiverson received her Master of Science in Nutrition Education and will be completing her dietetic internship from Teachers College, Columbia University in July 2014. After her internship, she plans to work as a registered dietitian in the New York City area.


  • Julie
    Posted at 07:24h, 16 July Reply

    Very clear and concise as well as highly informative. Great blog!

  • Cindy
    Posted at 20:47h, 16 July Reply

    We love seafood! This is really useful information.

  • Felicity
    Posted at 22:00h, 16 July Reply

    Great blog and great tips! Now I’m hungry for a crab feast!

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