DHTML Tree Menu skip to content



Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Safety Tips > Selecting Your Seafood

  Selecting Your Seafood

Seafood in your food establishment loses the glamour if it contains dangerous pathogenic bacteria or viruses. Pathogens are causing many foodborne illnesses around the world creating a major concern in raw or lightly cooked seafood products.


Seafood product safety guidelines can vary based on whether the products are harvested from an aquaculture environment or natural environment. In the case of aquaculture source, adequate water quality issues are of paramount concern. Local farm water run-off, feed stock for the product and pollution sources such as industrial sites, garbage dumps and disease within the confined environment are some of the concerns in aquaculture products. In the natural environment products, one must deal with heavy metals, oils, local runoffs and industrial wastes. Commercially caught seafood such as scallops, fish, shrimp, crawfish, lobster, etc. should be certified by a state or federal regulation agency. It is recommended that seafood from a commercial supplier be delivered in a frozen state. Do not accept deliveries of whole fish which have been transported at room temperature. A whole fish kept at room temperature is only good for four hours and will not reach your establishment within that time. A whole fish kept chilled on ice is generally good for up to four days. Dont forget to add the time of catching the product, harvesting travel time, shipment from a storage facility to your establishment and refrigerated storage time in your business. Commercially grown seafood such as shrimp, trout and oysters can also be delivered frozen to your establishment. Seafood products caught at sea, processed at sea and "quick frozen" are considered FRESH! Delivery temperatures are very important. No fresh seafood should be delivered above 40F, preferably below 37F. If it is delivered frozen, it should be hard frozen.


Ciguatera poisoning: Ciguatera poisoning can be a cumulative problem with many people. Ciguatera is caused by eating fish which have eaten algae that grow on salt water reefs. The algae produces toxin in the fish. The toxin builds up in humans as it does in the suspect seafood, often from many meals and sources. Hence the one meal one fish rule. Also, the bigger the fish, then more likely it is to contain the toxin. Fish at the top of the food chain, such as barracuda, coral trout, snapper are more likely to contain the toxin as they live on smaller fish and crustaceans. All large "high risk" fish should be screened for toxicity before purchasing. Check with your fish supplier.

Scromboid: Scromboid fish poisoning has been associated with consumption of tuna, mahi-mahi and bluefish. It is caused by by-products (enzymes) produced by bacteria on fish due to fish at improper refrigeration temperatures.

The well known bacteria found in seafood, such as E. Coli 0157:H7, Vibrio, Campylobacter and Salmonella can be controlled by proper storage, safe refrigeration temperatures, preventing cross contamination, cooking the fish to at least 145F and storing the fish at 140F or above during display.


Do not allow seafood packed in ice to melt unless the seafood is in hermetically sealed packages. The water (from melted ice) is highly dangerous because it contains runoffs from fresh products and body fluids draining from the fresh product along with any bacteria found inside the container. If you receive exposed products in melted ice, reject the shipment. Acceptable product should be cooked and not served in a raw form. Shellfish products are required to provide a tag to maintain in the establishment for ninety days. Fish that is to be served in a raw form must be frozen prior to service. Be sure to ask for freezing records from the supplier and maintain the records for ninety days. If the fish is frozen on the premises, maintain records to present to the health officer. The fish must be frozen throughout to a temperature of 4F (-20C) or below for 7 days or 31F (-35C) or below for 15 hours prior to using it for service as sushi.

Paying close attention to these issues will ensure that you receive and serve safe seafood products.

For this and other food safety related information, please contact the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Consumer Health Services at 713-794-9200.

Contact the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services