Oysters, Eastern

Around 35.5 million pounds of oysters are harvested and consumed annually in the United States, making the oyster one of the most popular seafood choices in the nation. And of all these oysters eaten, the Eastern Oyster is by far the most widely consumed. Traveling under many aliases—including the Atlantic, American, Common, or Virginia Oyster—the Eastern Oyster is ubiquitous on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

Purchasing and Storage

Know what to look for when buying: Oysters with open or cracked shells have most likely died and may not be safe to eat. Healthy oysters will respond to a tap on their shell or a dousing of cold water by clamping shut. During the summer months oysters spawn, producing a foamy milky sac that isn't toxic but most oyster lovers find it has an unpleasant texture and taste. When purchasing, ask if they are spawning and avoid those that are.

Store oysters properly at home: Oysters need to breathe and stay cool and moist. If you buy live oysters on a hot day, get them to a refrigerator within 90 minutes of purchase. Store oysters in a breathable container such as a burlap bag or cover them with a loose damp towel or cloth. Clean oysters before eating them, but not before storing them – the grit in the oyster shell keeps the animal insulated. Optimal storage temperature is below 45⁰ F but above 35⁰ F. For this reason, and because melting fresh water may kill an oyster, do not store live oysters on ice. Make sure to space oysters apart from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination, and place oysters above any other meats you may have in the fridge so that juices do not drip on them. Live oysters are best eaten within a week of purchase.

Freezing oysters: Fresh shucked oysters may be preserved for up to a year by freezing. Keep the oysters immersed in their own liquor in a shallow, airtight container, and freeze them as quickly as possible to minimize tissue damage. Keep the freezer temperature at 0⁰ F or below, and let the oysters thaw for 24 hours in the fridge before cooking. Thawed oysters should always be cooked and should never be re-frozen.

Key Information

Sustainability: Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch lists farmed oysters as a Green List “Best Choice” seafood purchase, and the Blue Ocean Institute lists both Eastern and Pacific farmed oysters in their highest sustainability category.

Omega-3s: 400 mg per 3 ounce serving. The American Medical Association recommends approximately 250 mg of omega-3 every day.

Red Tide: Eating an oyster harvested during red tide may result in one of many forms of shellfish poisoning, the symptoms of which range from numbness and tingling to paralysis and respiratory failure. State- and regional-level information is available online for Florida, Texas, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Delaware. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides similar data for the Gulf of Mexico.