Oysters are often eaten raw and alive, slurped straight off the shell. For this reason, it is crucial that this shellfish be stored properly and eaten within a day or two of being harvested.
Since fresh oysters need to remain alive until they are consumed, they cannot be stored in airtight containers or they will suffocate from a lack of oxygen, according to SafeOysters.org.
Place fresh oysters in the refrigerator and cover them with damp paper towels or another damp cloth to keep them from drying out.
Keep oysters on the upper shelves of your refrigerator and never store them below raw meat or poultry. Juices from the raw meats may drip on the oysters without your knowledge and possibly contaminate them with bacteria such as E. coli.
Do not store the live oysters directly on ice. Ice is made of fresh water and it may kill the oysters once the ice begins to melt since they require salt water to survive.
Keep your cold storage area below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and above 35 degrees. Temperatures below 40 will prevent bacterial growth, but temperatures below 35 (and especially 32) will kill the oysters.
If you harvest oysters yourself, be sure to get them into proper refrigeration as soon as possible. The oysters should reach a temperature below 40 degrees within 90 minutes of being removed from the water during hot weather. Oysters should only be harvested from waters deemed safe by your state.
How Long Can I Keep Them
Eat fresh oysters within one or two days if they are properly stored. Even if the oysters have been properly stored, check to make sure they are still alive before consuming any of them. One easy way to check if an oyster is still alive is to tap on its shell and see if it clinches closed. If it does not respond, then it may already be dead. Dead oysters may contain bacteria that can make you sick.
An option for longer-term storage of fresh oysters is to freeze them. While any seafood loses quality when frozen, this is still an acceptable way to store your oysters.
Shuck (remove from shell) the oysters and immediately place them in a shallow waterproof container. Place the container full of oysters in a freezer with a temperature of no higher than zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the container from the freezer and allow the oysters to thaw in the refrigerator when you want to use them.
Lee Morgan is a fiction writer and journalist. His writing has appeared for more than 15 years in many news publications including the "Tennesseean," the "Tampa Tribune," "West Hawaii Today," the "Honolulu Star Bulletin" and the "Dickson Herald," where he was sports editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.