Deep-fried or in a creamy soup, oysters are a tasty seafood choice. One of the greatest concerns surrounding oyster consumption is the threat of foodborne illness from bacterial contamination. Keep oysters well-refrigerated to reduce bacteria levels and lessen the likelihood of getting sick. Refrigeration does not kill bacteria, however; it only impedes bacterial growth. Even well-refrigerated oysters go bad after a while when bacteria begins to reach dangerous levels.
Keep Them Cold
Store oysters in temperatures between 40 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit. In the refrigerator, store oysters on a shelf above raw meat and poultry to avoid blood from these items resulting in cross-contamination. If your refrigerator does not have a thermostat or if you are unsure if a built-in thermometer is working properly, place a standalone appliance thermometer on the upper shelf to get an accurate reading.
Store Them Shucked
The term “shucked” simply refers to fresh oyster meat removed from the shell. Store shucked oyster meat in freezer bags or sealable containers. Pack a large open container with ice and nestle the bags or containers full of shucked oysters inside. Place the oysters on your refrigerator’s top shelf, where they remain safe to eat for up to two days. Replace the ice as it melts.
Unshucked and Alive
Unshucked oysters, also referred to as shellstock, are live oysters still in their shells. Well-refrigerated, unshucked oysters keep for two days inside a large bowl or container, loosely covered with a damp paper towel to keep them moist. Never store live oysters on a bed of ice inside the refrigerator. As the ice melts, the oysters float in a freshwater bath that eventually causes them to die.
For safety’s sake, oysters should be kept alive until cooked. Live, refrigerated oysters have tightly sealed shells. Dead oysters often have open shells; they may contain dangerous amounts of bacteria and should be discarded. Every once in a while, you may notice that a refrigerated oyster has an open shell. This does not necessarily mean the oyster is dead. If the shell snaps closed after a light tap with your finger, it is still alive.
References and ResourcesSafeOysters.org: Safely Storing Oysters and Other Molluscan Shellfish
Southern Regional Aquaculture Center: Aquacultured Oyster Products
Clemson Cooperative Extension: Foodborne Illness Related to Seafood
U.S. Department of Agriculture: Keep Food Safe! Food Safety Basics
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving it Safely