August 5th is National Oyster Day. Americans consume more than 2 billion pounds of shellfish every year, including oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, crab, lobster, shrimp, and other seafood that has a hard or soft shell. For grocery stores, that can mean a brisk business at the seafood counter. However, if shellfish are harvested from an unapproved source or mishandled in the store, they can cause serious illness. Grocery store and meat department managers are responsible for ensuring seafood sold to customers is safe.
How can just a mouthful of mollusk be so dangerous? Shellfish such as oysters, clams, and mussels live in waters close to the shorelines. They act as natural filters, finding nutrition by pumping water through their digestive systems. If runoff, harmful bacteria, chemicals, or viruses contaminate waters near shore, shellfish growing in the area can have high concentrations of pathogens that can make people very sick.
If you’re selling shellfish in your grocery store, it’s essential that all managers and meat counter staff are trained on how to safely source, receive, store, and serve shellfish.
Here are important guidelines:
Only buy shellfish that have been harvested from designated areas and approved waters
Oysters and other shellfish sold for consumption come from waters that are monitored continuously for pathogens. High rainfall that causes increased runoff, floods, hurricanes and storms, chemical spills, algae blooms, or wastewater contamination can temporarily close shellfish habitats.
Only buy shellfish from an approved vendor
Only source shellfish from a vendor that is certified by the FDA and the National Shellfish Program. From growing and harvesting to storage and shipping, certified vendors are trained in food safety particular to shellfish.
If serving raw, only accept live, chilled shellfish
When the vendor delivers your shellfish, ensure that they are alive. The air temp of the delivery vehicle in which they are delivered should 45F, and the internal temperature should be no more than 50F.
If you are receiving shucked shellfish, they should be at a temperature of 45F then cooled to 41F within four hours.
Check the shellstock identification tag
Every bag or container of shellfish should have an official tag that shows when and where the shellfish were harvested. This tag is your guarantee they have been taken from approved waters.
Store carefully – and keep the tag
- Shellfish should be stored in their original containers at a temperature of 41F or less.
- Keep the shellstock tag on the original container until it is empty.
- When you remove the last shellfish from the container, write the date on the tag.
- Keep the tag for 90 days.
Get a variance for your live tank
If you keep live molluscan shellfish for consumption in a display tank, you must obtain a HACCP variance by submitting your plan. The HACCP plan must include:
- General facility information
- TCS food categorization
- Process flow diagram
- Critical control points
- Training records
- Blank HACCP forms
- Any additional information requested
Label as an allergen
Shellfish allergies are common, and reactions can range from mild to severe. According to FDA regulations, if you pre-package shellfish, you must provide an allergen label. If you weigh and package shellfish to order, a label isn’t required.
Train your staff
Because shellfish can carry dangerous pathogens if not sourced and handled correctly, it’s imperative that managers and all meat counter staff know and practice food safety particular to receiving, storing, and selling shellfish.
If you sell shellfish in your grocery store, you’re responsible for ensuring they are safe to eat. Pay attention to food safety guidelines, regularly train your staff, have them attain National Registry's Grocery Store Manager Certification, and you’ll keep your shellfish-loving customers happy - and healthy.