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Eat Fish and Shellfish

Do you meet the recommendations for fish/shellfish? According to the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should eat at least 8 ounces of fish/shellfish per week. Shellfish, by the way, includes shrimp, crabs, oysters, lobster, clams, scallops, mussels, and crayfish.

A serving is 4 ounces, about the size of the palm of an average-sized adult’s palm. For children, a serving is 1 ounce at age 2, and it increases to 4 ounces at age 11.

A drained can of tuna, for example, has about 4 ounces of tuna. A salmon steak has about 4 to 6 ounces.

Fish/shellfish sources provide protein, omega-3 fats, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, iron, selenium, zinc, and iodine. Omega-3 fat can improve nervous system development in infants and children. “Oily” fish, like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and sardines are higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

Shopping For Seafood

To make sure you are getting the safest seafood possible, buy fish that is refrigerated or properly iced. Look for seafood to be displayed on fresh ice, and buyers beware when you see ice melting. Seafood should also be displayed in a case or under some type of cover.

When choosing fresh, whole fish look for these features: clear, bulging eyes; elastic, firm flesh; red gills; shiny skin; and close-fitting scales. Fresh or previously frozen seafood should have a pleasant and firm texture. If it smells bad and looks bad, it is probably past its prime and should not be eaten.

Look for fish fillets and cutlets that have moist flesh, firm texture, and no discoloration, darkness, or dryness. If touched, the flesh should spring back. Flesh that looks dull could mean the fish is old.

When selecting fresh shellfish, look for the tag or label on the packages. These tags and labels will give specific information about the product. Shrimp, scallop, and lobster flesh should be clear with a pearl-like color and little or no odor.

In addition, follow these general guidelines:

  • Throw away any dead, cracked, or broken shellfish.
  • Perform the “tap test.” Clams, oysters, and mussels that are alive will close up when their shells are tapped.
  • Look for moving legs. Live crabs, crawfish and lobsters will show leg movement.

Shop smart. Adding a meal or two with fish/shellfish doesn’t have to break your food budget. Try canned tuna and shop the sales.

Storing Seafood

Once you buy seafood, you should store it on ice, in the refrigerator, or in the freezer immediately. After buying, store it in the refrigerator if you will use it within two days. If you won’t use it for three or more days after purchase, freeze it.

Thaw frozen fish and shellfish in the refrigerator on a bottom shelf to prevent dripping on other foods. For faster thawing, place frozen fish or seafood in a waterproof bag in a pan in the sink under cold running water. It can also be thawed in the microwave on the defrost cycle. Stop the cycle when the fish is still icy but pliable. Cook immediately after thawing.

Seafood Safety

As with any type of food, guidelines should be followed on safety and handling of seafood to avoid foodborne illnesses. Certain groups of people are at a greater risk for foodborne illness and should stay away from eating raw or partially cooked fish or shellfish. People who should avoid eating raw oysters or raw sushi include pregnant women, young children, older adults, persons with compromised immune systems, and persons with decreased stomach acid.

Oysters that are pasteurized or treated with high pressure before they are served are considered safe and ready-to-eat. The best food safety rule of thumb to follow is to cook seafood thoroughly. The USDA recommends cooking all seafood to an internal temperature of 145°F.

Some people worry that fish contains methylmercury. A few fish species do accumulate high levels of methylmercury as they get older. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the most commonly eaten fish/shellfish that are on the “best choices” list in terms of mercury levels are anchovy, catfish, clam, cod, crab, crawfish, flounder, haddock, hake, herring, lobster, oyster, perch, pollock, salmon, sardine, scallop, shrimp, sole, tilapia, trout-freshwater, and several other types also are on the “best choice” list. The list of “good choices” includes Chilean sea bass, halibut, mahi-mahi, snapper, tuna, and other fish. King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, and bigeye tuna are on the “choices to avoid” list.


Eating a variety of foods from every food group is a hallmark of good nutrition. If you decide to add a couple of servings of fish to your weekly menu, consider these tips:

  • Keep it lean and flavorful. Try grilling, baking, broiling, poaching, and steaming fish. These methods do not add extra fat. Breading and frying fish add calories and fat.
  • Cook shrimp, lobster, and scallops until they are opaque (milky white). Cook fish to 145°F until it flakes with a fork. The shells of clams, mussels, and oysters open during cooking, throw out ones that don’t open.
  • Never leave seafood or other perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours or for more than 1 hour when temperatures are above 90°F.

Get creative with seafood. Try shrimp kabobs, stuffed fish filets, parchment baked fish, salmon patties, quinoa fish bowls, shrimp stir-fry, seafood chowder or stew, shrimp fried rice, or grilled fish tacos.

Shop smart. Adding a meal or two with fish/shellfish doesn’t have to break your food budget. Try canned tuna and shop the sales.

Fish are important in a healthy diet. They are a lean, low-calorie source of protein. Make sure you’re incorporating fish into your diet to reap all these terrific health benefits!!

Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator


  • FDA, “Fresh and Frozen Seafood”; USDA, 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

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Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Extension Educator:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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