Some food safety tips for serving seafood:
Know your distributor. Always buy seafood from a reputable distributor whom you can trust to deliver a product that has been properly maintained. This means fresh seafood and shellfish are kept at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower throughout the entire food distribution process. You have to be able to trust that the distributor is on top of this before the product reaches your door. Be sure to shop around for several different distributors and weigh price versus quality until you find the right balance between the two. If you have any doubts, ask to see certified product tags.
Manage raw product. Once that seafood or shellfish comes through your door, managing it properly is your responsibility. Store fresh product at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower as soon as possible after you receive it. Seafood should be stored in an airtight container or using cling wrap until it is ready to be prepared. Use a thermometer or a data logger to track the temperature of your seafood to make sure it is staying out of the “danger zone” between 41 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Store live shellfish, lobsters, and crabs in a ventilated container covered with a damp cloth. Storing live shellfish in salt water shortens their lifespan, and using fresh water will kill them outright, so take care when deciding how to store live shellfish.
Before you use seafood touch and smell it. Assuming you have been tracking temperature and know that the seafood product you are about to prepare has been maintained below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, the fastest and easiest way to make sure the product is safe is by using your senses. Clean, fresh seafood should have a mild smell. A fishy or sour smell is a telltale sign of contamination. Fresh seafood should also be soft yet firm to the touch. A mushy or dry, hard feel also indicates contamination.
Avoid cross-contamination. While preparing seafood product on the line, take care to avoid cross-contamination. The best way to accomplish this is to use color coded knives and cutting boards during preparation. That way your kitchen staff knows which knives and cutting boards have been used on raw seafood and can avoid using them on other items being prepared. Also make sure your staff follows proper handwashing techniques and uses disposable gloves to avoid contamination during preparation.
Cook seafood to the proper temperature. All seafood served in your restaurant should reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit when cooked.
Serving sushi or other kinds of raw fish and seafood add a whole other element of risk to your customer. If you do serve raw fish or shellfish, like oysters, the guidelines above that cover temperature, cross-contamination, and handwashing become even more important. Also, many states require that seafood to be served as sushi must be commercially frozen first to kill harmful parasites and viruses that may be present. Check with local and state laws to make sure you are in compliance.
Seafood can be a delicate product to store and prepare properly while avoiding contamination, but a little extra work and some attention to detail can yield some very popular dishes for your menu that will have customers coming back for more. Having a clear set of guidelines for maintaining the food safety of seafood products is only half the battle.
The real fight is training and educating your staff on following these guidelines and then conducting regular quality control measures to ensure the standards you have set are being met. Being vigilant about food safety procedures is the only way to achieve real success in any food safety program, whether it’s for seafood or any other item on your menu.