You feasted on crab to your heart’s content, and now you’re wondering what to do with the leftovers. You may have heard horror stories about people who ate old seafood and ended up in the hospital, but what about crab? How long does crab last?
In a pinch, leftover crab only lasts a couple of days in the fridge or a few months in the freezer if you store it correctly. Today, we’ll get into the shelf life of these shellfish and give you a few storage tips to help you stay out of hot water.
How Long Does Crab Last?
According to guidelines from the FDA, you should never leave raw or fresh crab meat at room temperature, even for a few hours. You can keep fresh crab meat fresh for a couple of days or even months if you store it right.
Stay safe by keeping your raw crab meat:
- 1 or 2 days maximum in the fridge
- 3 months tops in the freezer
If you think crab meat tastes delicious, you’re not alone. Crab is also considered a delicacy by some of the nastiest bacteria on the planet.
Even if you keep it chilled in the fridge, you should still use raw crab meat within at most 48 hours of bringing it home. Crabs and other shellfish are prone to being infested by a few particularly gruesome strains of bacteria.
Live crabs can keep a little longer, but only if you have a properly aerated tank setup. If not, for both humane and health reasons, it’s best to cook live crabs the same day you buy them.
How Long Is Cooked Crab Good For?
Cooked crab is slightly safer and longer-lasting than raw crab but only just.
Don’t keep cooked crab any longer than:
- 2 hours at room temperature
- 3 – 5 days in the fridge
- 2 – 3 months in the freezer
Sitting on the counter at room temperature, cooked crab will become inedible in about two hours due to bacterial growth. You can prolong its inevitable demise by storing it properly in your fridge, which we’ll get into a bit more below.
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You can keep vacuum-sealed packages of crab meat in the fridge for as long as one month. The seal will help it stay edible for quite a while, but once you open it, you’ll be on a ticking clock. Make sure to empty open packages within at most a couple of days.
Freezing crab meat is a difficult and unreliable process. If you do it right, it will keep its quality for about three months tops. Once you thaw out previously frozen crab meat, try to use it that same day to avoid the bacterial danger zone.
How To Tell if Crab Is Bad
Bad crab shows its true colors in a number of easy-to-spot ways:
- Sour smell
- Weird colors
The smell is the most telling indicator of bad crab.
Fresh raw crab meat should smell mostly neutral with possibly a faintly sweet tinge. Cooked crab should have a light, tangy sea smell. When the meat goes bad, those oceanic odors will turn sour, and you may begin to smell ammonia.
Some bad crabs smell rancid, and some just smell way too fishy. If your crab smells unusual in any way, it’s probably unsafe.
The flesh of both cooked or raw crab meat should be a clean white. If it came in a shell, you’d see a bright red border where the meat connects with the shell.
Raw crab meat starts to turn brown when exposed to air for too long. Cooked crab can turn a number of colors as it starts going off, including blue, gray or dark yellow.
When you touch raw crab meat, it’s okay if it feels moist, but mucus is a sign of danger. As the meat ages, a thick fluid begins to build up that feels kind of like sticky milk.
Touch your fingers to the meat, and then rub them together. If you see a stringy film between your fingers, your crab has probably turned to the dark side.
What Happens If You Eat Bad Crab Meat?
Eating bad crab meat can give you a few horrific kinds of food poisoning.
Bacteria like staphylococcus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus love to chow down on crab. At room temperature, they can colonize the meat to dangerous levels within a couple of hours.
If you’ve eaten infected crab meat, you may start to feel bad right away or at most within 24 hours. The symptoms are a gauntlet of unpleasant reactions, ranging from weakness, nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting to chills, watery diarrhea, and fever.
These tend to last for about three terrible days before they start to fade. If you have a weak immune system, though, the symptoms may get worse and last longer.
In cases of compromised immune systems, bad crab can cause vibriosis. This starts with an itchy rash that develops into large lesions and bleeding blisters. If the infection enters your bloodstream, it can trigger sepsis.
How To Store Crab
The fridge life of cooked crab meat can vary a bit depending on how you store it. Always make sure it’s tucked safely into the cold at most two hours after you take it off the heat.
You should always store crab meat in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in foil or plastic wrap. Even in the fridge, it will stay fresher if you put some ice on top of the container or around the wrap.
Crab legs like moisture. Gather them into a bundle, place them on a damp paper towel and roll it up. Wrap the bundle in plastic wrap or foil to seal it off from the air.
Keep meat, legs, and any other crab parts in the very back of your fridge instead of the front of the door. The back of the fridge is where all the coolest temperatures love to hang out, so this will make sure your aquatic leftovers stay as cold and fresh as possible without actually freezing.
Speaking of freezing, freezing crab meat isn’t generally a good idea. Although crab legs keep well in the freezer, lump crab meat tends to separate from its moisture when you freeze it. This means that it will thaw out to limp, mushy strings of flesh that are no fun at all.
If you need to freeze crab meat, put it in the freezer while it’s still in the shell, or make it into a crab cake or casserole. Prepared crab meat keeps its consistency much better.
You can also vacuum seal lump crab meat to try to get it to keep its stuff together in the freezer. Wrap it as tight as you can in foil or freezer wrap, and then seal it in an airtight container or freezer bag. Try to make sure that as little air as possible mixes with the meat.
You share your taste for crab with a few kinds of bacteria that don’t play nice. Avoid food poisoning by storing raw crab for at most two days in the fridge and never on the counter.
Cooked crab only fares slightly better, lasting for at most two hours at room temperature or five days in the fridge. Make sure the container or wrap you put it in is airtight, and sprinkle some ice around the outside for extra freshness. Freezing crab meat tends to ruin its texture. If you vacuum seal it, you may get it to stay together for as long as three months.