*Dhruv Kishore Bole 

Welcome to the second part of our two-part series on serving raw oysters and bivalve shellfish safely; what restaurant operators need to know. In this post, we’ll continue with food handling practices that restaurant operators can use to serve raw oysters and bivalve shellfish safely.

We covered purchasing controls, receiving controls and cleaning in the first instalment, now let’s look at some more food handling practices for safe shellfish service.

Storing

The quality and safety of shellfish are determined not only by the condition in which it were received, but also by how well they were stored. Oysters, clams, scallops and mussels should be kept alive and fresh until they are shucked and ready to be served raw. They can survive out of water for a few days if properly stored. Live and fresh mussels can be stored in the refrigerator for four days, clams and oysters for two days and scallops for three days. Store live and fresh shellfish on ice in the refrigerator in an open container and cover them with a damp cloth or paper towel to keep them as cold as possible. They should be allowed to breathe during storage to stay alive and fresh, so never store them in airtight containers. If shellfish is received in packaging that is at or below 5°C, it should be refrigerated as soon as possible, but no later than two hours. Bacteria found in shellfish begin to grow after two hours, raising the risk of foodborne illness. Store shellfish in the coldest part of the refrigerator in its original packaging and make sure the refrigerator is set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. If necessary, keep a probe thermometer in the freezer to ensure that there is no difference between the ambient temperature of the refrigerator and the temperature displayed on the refrigerator unit. When shellfish die, toxins begin to form inside them, and these toxins are transferred to humans when they eat them, causing shellfish-related infections. Shellfish can become contaminated during storage. Keep them away from raw meat and other foods such as fresh produce to avoid cross contamination from accidental contact.

Shucking and Serving

Cross contamination can also occur when live shellfish are not handled properly during shucking. Dirty equipment and surfaces are one of the common sources of cross contamination. Check that all shucking equipment, including shucking knives, towels, holding plates as well as counter top surfaces are clean and sanitized. Never put shucked shellfish on a plate that previously held raw meat unless it has been washed and sanitized. Before serving, smell them to see if they have a rotten or sulphurous odour, or if they appear dry and lack juiciness. If they show any of these signs, throw them away. Chefs must be trained in the shucking technique to ensure that all inedible parts containing toxins are removed while shucking. When shucking scallops, toss off the belly and frill, as they may contain bio toxins, grits and sand and have a muddy flavour. If shucked scallop comes into contact with waste, cross contamination can occur. Therefore, keep it separate. Oysters, clams, mussels and scallops should ideally be served on the same day it was received. Hand washing and the use of disposable gloves are necessary to avoid cross-contamination of shellfish. Employees must thoroughly wash their hands and put on a fresh set of gloves before shucking shellfish. When serving them live in a buffet or on a shellfish platter, serve them on bed of crushed or cubed ice. This will keep them cool at the proper temperature. When live oysters, such as clams, mussels, and scallops are shucked, they become immobile and begin to die. They should be consumed within thirty minutes of being shucked and served over ice. Transfer them to a new plate with fresh ice if the ice needs to be replenished. Servers must inform customers about the shellfish served and the area where the shellfish was harvested. Customers will have a better understanding of the type of shellfish they ordered and where it came from. If mussels and oysters have some tiny crabs (Pea crabs) inside them, simply remove them. They are, by the way, completely harmless.

Displaying Consumer Information

All restaurants that serve raw shellfish must prominently display a consumer advisory statement warning customers, especially vulnerable populations, about the increased risk of foodborne illness associated with eating raw or undercooked seafood. It could be displayed on menu cards, placards, or other suitable places. Displaying a consumer advisory statement is a legal requirement that must be followed. The following statement could be displayed:

Sample Consumer Advisory Statement

“Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness, especially if you have certain medical conditions”.

Providing Allergen Information

If a restaurant serves an item containing raw shellfish, such as oyster shooters, the item must be labelled as containing allergen. Among the two shellfish groups, allergy to crustaceans is more common than allergy to mollusks. People allergic to one type of shellfish, such as oysters, are more likely to be allergic to others in the same class, such as clams, scallops, and mussels. The advisory assists the customer in staying informed and making safe seafood-related purchasing decisions.

Creating a Food Safety Plan

Restaurants and other food service establishments that serve raw shellfish must develop and implement food safety and sanitation plan, even if national food safety regulations do not require it. The food safety plan must explain how risk associated with shellfish is managed during receipt, storage, preparation and service. The sanitation plan must specify how areas and equipment will be cleaned and sanitized, when and by whom, in order to avoid hazards that could contaminate the shellfish. Most of the time, a food safety plan is created but never implemented in restaurants. Even if the plan is followed, employees do not consistently demonstrate safe food handling behaviours and practices. Individuals with positional power are more likely to exhibit safety-related behaviours than those lower in the hierarchy, such as servers and commis chefs. It is vital to cultivate a robust food safety culture in restaurants under committed leadership. All staff must understand the significance of their role in safe shellfish service as well as how unsafe food handling behaviours and practices can harm health of the customers.

Recordkeeping

Monitor the temperatures of refrigerators and walk-in freezers on a daily basis and record them in the temperature control sheet. Maintaining temperature log helps in tracking temperatures and verifying that shellfish is kept at safe temperatures. Shellfish tags are important records that assist in tracing shellfish back to the farm, particularly during shellfish poisoning investigations. Keep shellfish tags in the container with the shellfish until empty or discarded. It is best to sort tags daily, bundle them up in paper towels and date label them. Retain all shellfish tags, even if they are from the same lot. This will help linking shellfish with customer meals. Tags must be kept at the restaurant for at least ninety days. Keep all shellfish invoices on file in case they are needed during the investigation. Restaurants must keep an illness and complaint log of all shellfish-related illness complaints and share it with local authorities as needed. The name and contact information of the complainant, as well as the number of guests in the group, including the complainant, must all be logged. Other information that must be included is the date and time of the meal, the batch and lot number of the shellfish served, and the total number of meals served from the same batch. These records assist restaurant operators in exerting greater control over shellfish service, identifying and removing contaminated shellfish, and preventing the further spread of food-borne illnesses.

Customers have a right to safer food and expect restaurants to serve the freshest and highest-quality shellfish.  Restaurants must fulfil their social responsibility to protect customers from food-borne illness by employing safe food-handling practices. Customers should also be aware of the risks associated with eating raw shellfish. It is worth remembering that eating thoroughly cooked shellfish is always the safer option. Allegations of food poisoning are something that every restaurateur wants to avoid. A single instance of food poisoning can have a devastating effect on a restaurant’s bottom line. It is important to remember that foodborne illnesses are easily preventable. All that is required is a proactive approach.

* MBA – Hotel Management I PCQI I ISO 900:2015 I FSSC 22000 I Lean Six Sigma I cGMP I HACCP I OHSMS I FPM I Revenue Management I Allergens I CGSP I FOSTAC – FSSAI