North Carolina Sea Grant
Coastwatch Currents

Coastwatch Currents

April 28, 2015 | Barry Nash

By BARRY NASH

Posted April 28, 2015

Frozen shrimp

Seafood processors in North Carolina freeze raw, wild-caught shrimp. Photo by Vanda Lewis

A colleague in the seafood industry recently pointed out a news article that questioned the quality of frozen shrimp.

The story cites a Consumer Reports study that found 60 percent of frozen shrimp tested were contaminated with harmful bacteria. In addition, researchers detected antibiotics in a handful of farmed frozen shrimp.

Before you swear off frozen shrimp altogether, here are a few things to consider.

Any raw seafood potentially contains disease-causing bacteria, including Salmonella, Vibrio, Listeria and E. coli, which were listed in the report. These bacteria are naturally present in the environment. Proper cooking — defined as an internal temperature of 145 F for 15 seconds — will destroy them.

What is truly worrisome is that the study found that some cooked, ready-to-eat shrimp contained live, harmful microorganisms. This indicates a failure by some processors to properly monitor time and temperature during cooking.

How does that affect consumers in this state? First, none of the processors in North Carolina currently manufacture cooked, ready-to-eat shrimp. They specialize in frozen, raw product. Further, all local shrimp are wild caught, so there is no potential for the antibiotic contamination that can be found in farmed shrimp.

The most important thing about seafood safety is proper handling and cooking. When you purchase freshly frozen, raw North Carolina shrimp, thaw them at temperatures no higher than 40 F to minimize the growth of any dangerous bacteria and heat them to the recommended temperature.

To cook one pound of headed shrimp, the Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas seafood resource book recommends bringing one quart of water to a boil. Add shrimp and simmer until it is pink and tender, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

After handling the raw product, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water to ensure you don’t contaminate your cooked shrimp with undesirable microorganisms.

If you’re in the Triangle and on the lookout for local frozen shrimp, check out this pilot project from North Carolina Sea Grant, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Locals Seafood and Carteret Catch.

Also, read my Coastwatch article for tips on selecting and handling frozen seafood. For shrimp recipes, go to marinersmenu.org.

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