Fresh crabmeat refers to cooked meat that is picked from the crab shell.
Eastern North Carolina fishermen harvest Atlantic blue crabs mainly in the summer and fall months. The live crabs are heated under pressure to fully cook them before they are chilled to 36 to 38 F, making the cooked meat easier to separate from the shell by hand.
Fresh-picked crabmeat generally is sold in plastic cups and is graded as lump, backfin, special and claw. For a full description of the various product forms, go to NC crabs.
Picked crabmeat is packed in metal or plastic containers and is pasteurized to extend its shelf life. Fresh or pasteurized crabmeat is often packed in ice to keep its temperature as near 320 F as possible to maintain its quality. Fresh-picked crabmeat will last 14 days (shelf life) when packed in ice. Pasteurized crabmeat will last six months under refrigeration.
Cooked crabmeat is often referred to as a “ready-to-eat” (RTE) food because it can be eaten right out of the plastic cup or can. It does not have to be cooked again. And that means you need to take special care when purchasing and handling crabmeat.
Buy from a seafood retailer or grocery store that maintains picked crabmeat in ice or under refrigeration. Place containers of crabmeat in ice and refrigerate. Because crabmeat is already cooked, it is important that it never contacts raw foods or be allowed to sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Always return unused portions of containers to your refrigerator or pack in ice.
Contributed by Barry Nash