Oysters. You either love them or hate them, but the truth is, a lot of people love them! They are a luxury seafood, and incredibly popular in some parts.
However, the issue of storage is one that always gets a lot of attention. People just want to know: how long do oysters last?
If you’re one of those people, then you’re in the right place. Here, we will be covering how long your oysters will last (alive and dead), and some handy things to know. By the end of it, you’ll be an oyster pro and know exactly what to do with them
How Long Do Oysters Last?
Like with most things, there’s no one answer for this! Your oyster’s shelf life will depend on a number of factors. However, it’s usually recommended to eat your oysters within one week. Beyond that, you risk food poisoning.
Overall, the colder the temperature, the longer they will last. With that being said, some people like to keep their oysters in a refrigerator for two weeks or more.
As long as there’s proper refrigeration, this is absolutely fine! It is known that oysters harvested in the winter are dormant, and can last for up to a month in refrigeration.
The real danger comes when you eat dead oysters. This is because a dead oyster often has dangerous bacteria on them. Because of this, it’s always recommended to eat live oysters.
If you weren’t aware that oysters are usually alive when you eat them… we’re sorry that you had to learn that here.
Below are the general rules to follow when it comes to oyster storage:
- Whole oyster (refrigerated) – will keep for up to one month if kept at under 40 °F
- Shucked oyster (refrigerated) – use within 4-7 days. If you purchased them shucked, use them by the date printed on the package.
- Shucked oyster (on ice) – if the ice stays fresh, oysters will keep for up to 10 days.
- Shucked oyster (frozen) – will keep for up to 6 months
- Cooked oysters (refrigerated) – consume within 3 days
How Can You Tell if Your Oysters Have Gone Bad?
In most cases, identifying an oyster that’s gone bad is easy enough. There are a couple of things to look out for if you’re scouting for a bad oyster:
- A bad smell – oysters should smell like the sea, not smelly or fishy in any way.
- Meat is the wrong color – the meat should be a light tan, not black, pink, or brown.
- Meat is shriveled or cloudy – this speaks for itself. Throw it away immediately.
- The shell is damaged/broken – any signs of damage means that the oyster is probably dead.
- The shell doesn’t close if you tap on it – the oyster may already be dead if it doesn’t close.
- There isn’t any oyster liquor or seawater in the shell – there should be some juice in there.
It’s never worth eating an oyster you even suspect might be bad. One bad oyster can lead to the worst days of your life (or worse), and the risk is never worth it. Get some fresh oysters.
Can Oysters Be Eaten Raw?
Yes! In fact, the vast majority of oysters are eaten raw (and alive). It’s a unique experience, and it might not be a great time for everyone. If you love raw oysters, it’s almost a given that you at least found it questionable the first time you had one.
Oyster purists believe that eating raw oysters is really the best way to do it. This way, the briny flavors can be savored, and you can really enjoy the gooey texture.
Again, it’s not for everyone.
With that being said, in recent years, this practice has come under scrutiny. Not because they’re live oysters, but because raw oysters carry loads of potential risks.
They have been found to carry the Vibrio virus – which is deadly! Around 100 people in the US die from this virus every year.
You can still experience horrific food poisoning if you don’t contract the virus. Freshness and safety isn’t always a guarantee, so it’s a risky business. Vinegar or lemon juice won’t do anything to help with bacteria, either.
Within 12 hours, you could experience symptoms like fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, and cramping due to a single bad oyster.
You should also ensure that you aren’t allergic before eating them. While mollusk allergies aren’t as common as crustaceans, symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening.
How To Tell If Oysters Are Still Alive
If you want to ensure that you have beautiful fresh oysters for eating them raw, you should ensure they’re still alive! There are a couple of things you can look for:
- It should have a tightly closed muscle if it isn’t shucked. If not, it’s likely dead.
- It should have lots of oyster liquor and seawater if it is shucked. Inside should be moist.
- It should smell like the sea rather than fishy or foul. Fresh, live oysters shouldn’t smell bad.
- If all else fails, poke it with a fork. A live oyster should move!
Do You Eat Live Oysters?
As you may have gathered by now – yes. This isn’t always the case, though!
The majority of oysters, even the ones that are shucked, should be alive right until they go in your mouth (and beyond).
No one knows for sure when the oyster actually dies, but it’s assumed that the stomach acid does quick work of it. Alternatively, if you chew your oysters, your teeth likely get the job done!
Technically, however, it dies as soon as it gets slurped from the shell. This usually severs the heart – but this doesn’t always happen.
How To Store Oysters Properly
Proper storage is key! You should always keep fresh oysters in cold (not frozen) conditions. This will ensure that they keep their flavor and great texture.
To do this, you can leave them in their shells and keep them in the coldest area of your refrigerator. Alternatively, keep them in a cooler with some ice. Wait to shuck them until you’re ready to eat them at that very moment.
You can turn whole oysters over in the fridge to help extend their shelf life. Since they live in the cupped part of the shell, turning them, so the cut is upside down, and placing a wet paper towel on top, will make them last longer.
They need to be able to relax and breathe so that they are as fresh as possible.
Once shucked, keep them as cool as possible and eat them. Use a lid or wet paper towel to prevent bacteria from gathering.
If you bought them shucked, leave them in the packaging until you’re ready to use them. Shucked oysters should be used within just a few days.
Can They Be Frozen?
Freezing isn’t a common or preferred method of storing. However, it can be done and can be beneficial. Doing this can allow you to have fresh oysters at any point, but their texture won’t be improved. Freezing primarily preserves the flavor of the oyster.
To freeze oysters, all you need to do is:
- Carefully remove the shells.
- Place the shucked oysters in a shallow dish.
- Keep them in an airtight container. Not doing so can result in freezer burn.
- DO NOT get rid of the excess liquid, as it adds flavor.
- Keep in the freezer. Three months is typically the limit.
If you want to freeze them with the shells, be sure to rinse them thoroughly first. Do this using cold water.
If you freeze an oyster, they should not be eaten raw. Thaw them by leaving them in the refrigerator overnight.
Keeping Oysters Alive In A Cooler
You can also keep your oysters alive in a cooler! This is great for keeping them alive and fresh, but comes with its own problem: fresh water kills oysters.
If you can ensure that the ice doesn’t melt enough to kill the mollusks, you can keep them alive by:
- Ensure all shells are intact and closed.
- Keep the shells on a layer of fresh, solid ice.
- Ensure there is airflow within the cooler.
- Periodically check back to drain away any ice that has melted. The shells must not come into contact with the fresh water.
- Add more ice frequently, always keeping the oysters on top of it.
- OPTIONAL – you can put a layer of plastic wrap between the oysters and the ice to prevent water from getting to them.
- Consume the oysters within one week.
If you’re an oyster lover, there’s probably nothing better! However, oyster-eating is practically a sport and comes with many dangers. Knowing how long your oysters will keep for, and what to look for if they’ve gone bad, can actually save your life!
Taking risks with oysters is never worth it. As such, always ensure that you’re eating fresh, live oysters if you’re eating them raw. If you freeze your oysters, make sure they are thoroughly cooked before putting them in your mouth.
Enjoy those oysters and stay safe!
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