Tips to buy, store, and prepare shrimp

Despite strong endorsements of eating seafood from the country’s highest dietary-related regulatory agencies, Americans still are not including it on their plates often enough.

Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unequivocally recommend that people consume at least two servings of seafood each week. But, while America gobbles up more than 80 pounds of beef and 60 pounds of chicken per person annually, shrimp – the nation’s most-popular seafood – rings in at a mere 4.1 pounds per individual. Even if you add together all types of fish and shellfish, the annual consumption tally for that amalgamated category is just 15 pounds per person.*

According to the 2013 report, “Fish and Seafood Trends in the U.S.,” published by Packaged Facts, a division of, 15 percent of American adults strongly agree and 25 percent somewhat agree that, to eat healthfully, they often choose fresh fish over meat or poultry.

 Those percentages likely could be higher, were it not for prevailing consumer confusion about how to purchase, store and prepare seafood.

 Below are some key tips for selection, storage and preparation of shrimp from Rima Kleiner, MS, RD, National Fisheries Institute, and the USDA.


Q:  Should I buy peeled shrimp or shrimp still in the shell?

 A:  It depends on how you plan to serve the shrimp. For shrimp cocktail and shrimp salad, try peeled and deveined shrimp to speed up the preparation process. For grilled shrimp, choose shrimp in the shell, to help lock in the moisture.

  Q:  Is there a standard for measuring the size of shrimp?

 A:  Yes, there is. When a recipe references large, extra-large or any other size of shrimp, it is simply referring to the amount of shrimp that will fill a one-pound order. For example, one pound of “large” shrimp equals about 30-35 shrimp, whereas one pound of “colossal” shrimp equals approximately 16-20 shrimp. This handy chart details the generally accepted number of shrimp per pound for each size category.


 Q:  What is considered a serving size for shrimp?

 A:  A 3-ounce serving size contains about four large shrimp or two-to-three colossal shrimp. A 3-ounce serving of shrimp contains less than 85 calories, plus 1 gram of fat and about 20 grams of protein.

 Q:  After purchasing shrimp, what’s the best way to store it at home? And how long will shrimp keep?

A:  Cooked shrimp may be stored in a sealed container for no more than three days. Raw shrimp should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator and cooked or properly frozen within two days of purchase. Should you plan not to prepare the shrimp within two days of purchase, the most effective way to preserve the flavor is to wrap raw shrimp (heads removed) tightly in plastic, foil or moisture-proof paper and store in freezer. Raw frozen shrimp can be stored in the freezer for up to six months. Cooked frozen shrimp should be thawed and consumed within two months.

 Q:  How do I thaw frozen shrimp?

 A:  Refrigerator Method – A full day before you plan to cook them, place the frozen shrimp in a clean container and loosely cover the top with plastic wrap. Place the container on a low shelf in the refrigerator and let the shrimp slowly defrost for about 24 hours. Then, remove any liquid that has collected in the container. Use the shrimp within a day after that.

       Cold-Water Method – If you have less time available, but can closely monitor the thawing process, place the frozen shrimp in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge the bag in cold tap water and change the water every 30 minutes, until the food has defrosted. Do not try to speed things up with warm water because the shrimp can start to cook. After the shrimp have thawed, cook them immediately. Another option for a quick-thaw process is to microwave the shrimp on the “defrost” setting. Be sure to stop the defrosting when the shrimp is icy but pliable.

 Q:  Should you devein shrimp prior to eating?

 A:  Deveining shrimp is a matter of preference. If you do eat a shrimp that contains a “sand vein” (the shrimp’s digestive tract), you can feel confident the vein will not harm you. If you’re cooking at home, you can easily devein shrimp by making a small, lengthwise cut down the outer edge of each shrimp and simply removing the vein with a toothpick or fork.

       It also is easy to buy shrimp that already have been deveined.

 Q:  How can I determine if/when my shrimp are sufficiently cooked?

 A:  Most seafood, including shrimp, should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145˚ F. Without using a food thermometer, check for these signs that shrimp are sufficiently cooked. The texture of properly cooked shrimp will change from mushy to firm, the color will turn from brownish-gray to a warm, orangey-pink, and the meat will become pearly and opaque. Shrimp are overcooked when they curl in tightly and the flesh becomes rubbery. Uncooked spoiled seafood can smell of ammonia. Should your shrimp have spoiled, the odor will likely become stronger after cooking. If either raw or cooked shrimp small of ammonia, do not consume.

*USDA statistics reflecting 2011 calendar year, the latest year with complete data available.

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