Oysters are a popular luxury food. If you can get on board with the idea of eating live, raw shellfish, then you are in for a tasty treat.
Cooked oysters are fantastic in many dishes as well, and a more gentle introduction to this delicacy for those reluctant to slurp them raw from the shell.
However, handling and storing oysters can be scary!
How Long Do Oysters Last?
You should keep them alive and as cold as possible until the very last minute. With proper care, you can safely eat oysters in your very own home. Shucked oysters will last around one week stored correctly, while whole oysters may stay good for a month.
Are they okay to eat from the fridge? Should you shuck before storing or leave them in their shells? What about putting them on ice? Read on to find out answers to these questions.
Oyster Shelf Life
The type of oyster you have will determine its shelf life. For most varieties, it’s safe to say you should eat them within a week. The colder the temperature, the longer the oyster shelf life.
- Shucked oyster, in the fridge – 4 to 7 days, or the printed “use by” date if purchased shucked
- Shucked oyster, on ice – up to 10 days, as long as the ice stays fresh
- Whole oyster, in the fridge – up to a month, as long as under 40℉
- Shucked oyster, in the freezer – up to 6 months
- Cooked oysters – up to 3 days
Some people choose to keep their oysters in the fridge for up to two weeks or even longer. With proper refrigeration, that’s totally okay. Dormant oysters that have been harvested in the winter have been known to have a shelf life of up to one month.
As long as the oysters are still alive when you consume them, it’s fine. Never eat a dead oyster – it puts you at risk of getting food poisoning.
How To Tell If Oysters Are Bad
It’s quite easy to identify a bad oyster. Here are some things you will notice when an oyster is bad:
- The shell is broken or damaged.
- The shell does not close when tapped on.
- There’s no seawater or oyster liquor (the proper name for the oyster’s juices) in the shell.
- The meat is cloudy and shriveled.
- The meat is any color other than a light tan – like pink, brown, or black.
- The oyster has a stinky, fishy smell.
Let me reiterate – do not eat a bad oyster! Eating raw, expired oysters can lead to a world of trouble. If you notice any of these signs that the oyster is bad, don’t slurp it up – toss it out.
Can You Eat Oysters Raw?
Eating raw oysters is a totally unique experience. While it can be strange to start with, it’s totally okay to do. In fact, oyster purists say that the best way to savor the briny flavor and firm yet gooey texture is by eating them raw.
Eating raw oysters has come under a lot of scrutiny lately because of the potential risks. Oysters can carry within them a deadly virus called the Vibrio virus.
According to the CDC, these naturally-occurring viruses can become concentrated in the oyster’s body as it drinks up ocean water. If someone consumes an infected oyster, they can get vibriosis and it can be deadly. Nearly 100 people in the US die from vibriosis each year.
Even if you don’t contract vibriosis, you still run the risk of getting a bad case of food poisoning. Not all shellfish in restaurants is guaranteed to be fresh and you can be served a bad oyster that’s chock full of nasty bacteria.
Symptoms can include cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. And don’t be fooled – lemon juice or vinegar on the oyster won’t kill the bacteria.
As with all types of shellfish, you should be cautious when eating oysters for the first time. While mollusks like oysters usually don’t cause as severe an allergic reaction as crustaceans (like shrimp), they can still cause life-threatening symptoms in those who are allergic.
Are Oysters Alive When You Eat Them?
Another fun fact about eating raw oysters – the oysters you get on the half shell are probably still alive!
Dead oysters can harbor bacteria. They also smell awful and taste worse. That’s why oysters are kept alive up until the moment of consumption.
There’s some argument over whether the animal dies before it enters your mouth or after. Once the mollusk is slurped from its shell, the heart is often severed and it technically dies. If it is still alive, then the chomping of the teeth and the stomach acid are sure to kill the oyster.
How To Tell If Oysters Are Alive
To make sure you’ve got the freshest oysters for eating raw, look for these signs to make sure that you’ve got a living mollusk:
- If not shucked, look for a tightly closed muscle.
- If shucked, look for lots of seawater and oyster liquor.
- Check the smell – it should smell like the sea, not like rotten fish.
- The ultimate test: poke it with a fork to see if it moves.
How To Store Fresh Oysters
Keeping oysters cold but not frozen will maintain optimal flavor and texture. The best way to achieve this is to keep them inside their shells and stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator or in a cooler with ice (see below).
Don’t shuck the oysters until right before you are going to use them.
A pro-tip for storing shelled or whole oysters: turn them over in the fridge.
The oysters themselves live in the cupped part of the shell, so turning them with the cup side down and covering them with a wet paper towel will help to extend their shelf life.
Keeping them cold, wet, and able to relax and breath (yes, they have gills) will keep them alive and fresh.
Once you’ve shucked the oysters, keep them as cold as possible and eat them soon. Shucked oysters should be covered by a wet paper towel or lid to keep them from attracting bacteria.
Shucked oysters that came in packaging should be left in the original packaging whenever possible. Use them within a couple of days of shucking for the best flavor and freshness.
Can You Freeze Oysters?
Freezing oysters isn’t as common as freezing other shellfish, but it can be done. It’s a great way to have fresh oysters in a dish any time of year. Freezing fresh oysters won’t improve their texture, but it can preserve their flavor. Here’s how you do it:
- Safely remove all shells.
- Place shucked oysters in a shallow dish.
- Make sure the cover is airtight to avoid freezer burn.
- DO NOT remove excess liquid (it will add flavor).
- Place in freezer for up to three months. [http://www.safeoysters.org/]
You can follow the above steps and leave the oyster in the shell prior to freezing. Just be sure to thoroughly rinse the shells in cold water first. Be sure to keep frozen oysters at 0℉ or lower.
When thawing frozen oysters, be sure to thaw safely in the refrigerator. Frozen oysters should not be eaten raw – always cook them before consuming.
How To Keep Oysters Alive In A Cooler
You can keep live, shelled oysters in a cooler to keep them fresh. This works well in that it keeps a low temperature because they are directly exposed to the ice.
It does come with some issues, however. Melting ice, which is fresh water, can kill the mollusks. They’ll try to feed in the fresh water and die in the attempt. If you want to keep your live oysters in a cooler, here’s how:
- Make sure the shells are closed and in-tact.
- Place the shells on top of a fresh layer of ice.
- Be sure that the cooler has air flow so that the oysters don’t suffocate.
- Drain the melting ice water periodically so that the shells don’t come in contact with the water.
- Freshen the ice periodically to keep things nice and cold.
- Place a layer of plastic wrap beneath the oysters to keep water out if you like.
- Eat the oysters within seven days.