If you ask me, seafood is quite special.
Compared to chicken, beef and pork, seafood stands alone. It's healthier, lighter on the stomach and simply a more exotic choice when trying to figure out what to eat or cook.
But’s let’s be honest, not all seafood has been created equal, and in some cases using the term seafood is quite the creative stretch, especially in some fast-food places and take-out restaurants.
And when trying to decide where to buy fish, shrimp or any other kind of seafood, you just can’t walk into any old place that sells the stuff and feel confident its' fresh, safe to eat and won’t make you sick.
According to Eatright.org, a website and informational hub put together by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, fish needs to be stored and refrigerated below a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
And different types of seafood needs to be either packaged or displayed separately in the store, to avoid the possibility of cross contamination, so going to a fish market and seeing the shrimp next to the scallops and the scallops next to the salmon in close proximity, should be a big sign to stay away.
Clean and cold
Additionally, all seafood should be packaged separately by either you or the cashier before bringing it home, and while shopping, the seafood should be the last item you pick up before heading to the register, so it’s not kept away from refrigeration longer than it has to, says the Academy.
The organization also says the flesh on seafood should be shiny in color and if it appears dull or the flesh is hard to separate from the bone, you should avoid purchasing it.
And although many believe fish is supposed to smell fishy or ocean-like, it actually shouldn’t -- and if you do smell an odor, it should be a clear sign the seafood comes from a questionable source or hasn't been properly refrigerated.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a government agency that researches the conditions of the ocean, atmosphere and sea life, consumers should use a simple finger test to determine the level of freshness when buying fish fillets or whole fish, that entails pressing down on the flesh of the seafood and seeing if an indentation is left.
If there is an indentation, the NOAA says you should stay away from the fish. The flesh should give you a little resistance and appear firm when pressing down on it. If it doesn’t do that, the seafood is more than likely to be of very poor quality.
Also, if the eyes in a whole fish seem to bulge, it’s considered a good thing, say experts and if you notice the eyes are sunken, discolored, cloudy or have a pinkish hue, it’s a good indication the fish isn’t fresh and has been out of the ocean too long.
No leaks or drips
According to the University of Illinois Extension, which studies different aspects of seafood from purchasing it to cooking it correctly, packaged seafood should not be leaking and if you notice dripping liquids or the contents of the package is swimming in raw juices, it shouldn’t be touched, since the seafood could contain bacteriathat can’t be removed by simply microwaving it.
The Midwestern university also says that when buying frozen fish, you should stay away from packages that are kept above the frost line in the store’s freezer, and when buying shellfish, you should always buy it live and make sure you see movement in the animal’s tail, legs or shell.
Consumers should also be on the look-out for ice crystals, say experts, as this is an indication the seafood has been refrozen more than once, because once frozen seafood thaws, it should never be frozen and thawed again, say experts.
Seafood lovers should also remember to freeze seafood immediately after buying it, says The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics -- and when storing it, you should always put seafood in air-tight containers or wrap it up tightly in cellophane.
However, the opposite applies to shellfish, as it should be stored with proper ventilation says the Academy and it should be placed in containers that aren’t sealed too tightly. Shellfish should also be covered with a paper towel or damp cloth when being stored, say experts.
Not on the counter
The Academy also says consumers should never thaw seafood on the counter, and instead allow it to thaw in the refrigerator, in the microwave or in the sink under cold running water.
And if you want to ensure that your seafood is being harvested sustainably, you can choose between any number of seafood guides that helps with your purchasing options, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide or the Blue Ocean Institute-Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood.
These guides and others like them are released and updated periodically by various organizations to help educate consumers about where their seafood actually comes from and how responsible companies are at bringing it to you.
Experts also say if there’s one chief rule to buying seafood, it would be the rule of common sense, as you should always make purchases from reputable sources and use your eyes and nose as your first line of defense to determine the seafood’s freshness and level of safety.
Also, you want to make sure that where you’re buying your seafood is totally clean, and that level of cleanliness should be your barometer in gauging just how fresh and safe the seafood is.
It doesn’t take a professional seafood inspector to make wise buying decisions; it just takes a little more time and effort on your part when you’re in a fish market or grocery store.
As I said seafood is quite special, so really, it has to be handled and treated with a lot more care compared to other foods.