Serving shellfish requires particular attention to food safety standards

Food Safety Focus Team • August 02
August 5th is National Oyster Day – not that Americans need an excuse to eat oysters. People’s love affair with shellfish is a long one, with evidence of oyster farms dating back to the Roman Empire. From salty to sweet, shellfish flavors reflect their particular environments, making them a particular treat for seafood lovers.
 
Shellfish include oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, crab, lobster, shrimp, and other mollusks and crustaceans that have a hard or soft shell. These delicacies can be enjoyed cooked or raw; but if they are harvested from an unapproved source or mishandled, they can cause serious illness. Therefore, restaurant managers have a responsibility to ensure the shellfish they serve their customers are fresh and safe to eat.
 
Shellfish thrive in waters close to the shore. Shellfish such as oysters and clams act as natural filters, cleaning the water by pumping it through their digestive systems. If runoff, harmful bacteria, chemicals, or viruses contaminate the water near shore, shellfish growing in the area – and crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters living near the shore - can have high concentrations of pathogens.
 
Are you serving shellfish in your restaurant? Here’s a refresher on how to safely source, receive, and store shellfish.  
 
Only buy shellfish that have been harvested from designated areas and approved waters
 
Oysters and other shellfish sold for consumption come from waters that are monitored continuously for pathogens. High rainfall that causes increased runoff, floods, hurricanes and storms, chemical spills, algae blooms, or wastewater contamination can temporarily close shellfish habitats.
 
Only buy shellfish from an approved vendor
 
Only source shellfish from a vendor that is certified by the FDA and the National Shellfish Program. From growing and harvesting to storage and shipping, certified vendors are trained in food safety particular to shellfish.
 
Only accept live, chilled shellfish
 
The danger of severe illness increases if shellfish are consumed raw, or consumed by anyone with a compromised immune system, including children and senior citizens.
 
When the vendor delivers your shellfish, ensure that they are alive. The air temp of the delivery vehicle in which they are delivered should 45F, and the internal temperature should be no more than 50F.
 
If you are receiving shucked shellfish, they should be at a temperature of 45F then cooled to 41F within four hours.
 
Check the shellstock identification tag
 
Every bag or container of shellfish should have an official tag that shows when and where the shellfish were harvested. This tag is your guarantee that they have been taken from approved waters.
 
Store carefully – and keep the tag
 
•    Shellfish should be stored in their original containers at a temperature of 41F or less.
•    Keep the shellstock tag on the original container until it is empty.
•    When you remove the last shellfish from the container, write the date on the tag.
•    Keep the tag for 90 days
 
Label properly
 
FDA regulations state that you must post a consumer advisory such as “Eating raw shellfish is more risky and can lead to a possible foodborne illness.”
 
Train your staff
 
Because shellfish can carry dangerous pathogens if not sourced and handled correctly, it’s imperative that managers train all of their food-handling staff to know and practice food safety particular to receiving, storing, and serving shellfish.
 
In addition to training all new staff, a seasonal or yearly staff refresher is essential in restaurants that only serve shellfish seasonally.
 
National Oyster Day celebrates a centuries-old gourmet pleasure. Follow food safety guidelines and train your staff and your restaurant can celebrate with assurance.