Shellfish Handling & Safety Guidance
The retail sale of shellfish from a farmer's market, temporary food service establishment, or itinerant vendor to the final consumer does not require a DA/BA license. These operations are under the jurisdiction of the local Director of Health and may require a local license. Temporary food service establishments include carnivals or circuses, public exhibitions, festivals, and celebrations. Itinerant vendors include food trucks, caterers, and traveling raw bars. Restaurants must purchase shellfish from approved sources, as designated by the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List.
Please be advised that consuming raw or undercooked shellfish, meats, or eggs may increase your risk of food borne illness, especially if you have certain medical conditions.
Download our brochure on safe handling, storage, and cooking practices of molluscan shellfish & our brochure on the importance of keeping shellfish cold.
Purchase shellfish carefully.
- Only buy raw oysters, clams and mussels from reputable sources. If in doubt, ask to see the shipper's tag or check the shipper number on the container.
- Shellfish should have a clean, characteristic odor. Do not purchase shellfish that have strong, off odors.
- Shells should be closed, or close tightly when tapped. The siphons of steamer (soft shell) clams should move when touched.
- Shells should be clean and unbroken.
- Ensure you have the appropriate recreational shellfishing license for the Town you are harvesting in. Not all Towns have recreational areas. Harvesting in areas where recreational shellfishing is not established is illegal and can be dangerous to your health. Recreational shellfishing areas are established using robust water quality data to ensure shellfish are free of pathogens and deleterious substances.
- Call the hotline every morning you intend to harvest shellfish. It is illegal to harvest shellfish in recreational areas that are closed due to poor water quality or other environmental impacts, and areas are patrolled by wardens to deter illegal harvesting. Ensure you understand the recreational map to know where you can and cannot harvest shellfish in the Town(s) you hold a license in.
- Shellfish must be placed on ice immediately after harvest. Ensure the container drains ice melt. Never store shellfish in the water, overboard of a dock or boat, or in a boat livewell. Shellfish are filter feeders and may concentrate contaminants from any new environment they are introduced to.
- Read the Recreational Shellfish and Vibrio Guidance for additional information about safely harvesting in the summer.
Store Shellfish Properly.
- Shellfish shelf life is dependent on a few variables, including how the product is handled and storage temperature.
- Shelf life is generally 7-10 days, but can be longer for hard shell clams and oysters. Steamer clams cannot close their shells, which can result in a shorter shelf life than hard shell clams and oysters.
- Keep shellfish alive until ready to prepare. Refrigerate live shellfish promptly and properly. Live clams, mussels and oysters should be stored at 35-40℉ under well-ventilated refrigeration. Do not store shellfish in air-tight bags/containers or in water.
- Discard dead shellfish promptly. The shells of hard clams, oysters, and mussels should be tightly closed and should not open when tapped. Gaping, unresponsive shellfish should be discarded promptly. The siphon of steamer clams should not be limp, the shell should be fairly tight around the siphon, and the siphon should move (at least a little bit) when touched. Discard steamer clams that do not resemble the listed characteristics and do not move when touched.
- Shellfish may be frozen for 3-6 months.