Are Dead Crabs Safe To Eat?

Crabs are a delicacy for many people. Crab meat’s light, flaky texture has a taste unlike anything you may have tasted before. However, crab is best when prepared fresh and even better when you catch them straight out of the sea.

Dead crabs are unsafe for consumption. Once the crab dies, bacterial toxins spread. That makes the flesh tasteless and can cause shellfish poisoning. Therefore to ensure freshness, it is best to eat crabmeat within 10-15 minutes after the crab dies, and if kept cool, it can be eaten within 24 hours.

We all sometimes enjoy a well-prepared, delicious plate of crab, either broiled or smothered in garlic butter. But when you are unclear whether it is safe to eat dead crabs, this article can help by shedding light on when is the best time to eat crabs and what signs to look out for to ensure the crab is safe to eat.

Is It Safe To Eat Dead Crab?

When it comes to any shellfish, it is always best to consume them at their freshest. The same rule applies to crabs too. If you’ve encountered some dead crabs on the beach, it is best to leave them alone because dead crabs are unsafe for consumption.

When fresh, crab meat bears a distinct light flavor and is flaky with a pinkish white hue. Crabs should ideally be consumed within 10 to 15 minutes after death and between 24 to 48 hours to ensure freshness.

If you are not ready to prepare the crabs immediately, you may store the dead crabs in a cooler box packed with ice or place the crabs in the refrigerator. In this way, you preserve the taste for a little while longer.

However, after the window of 24 to 48 hours has passed, bacteria collects and spreads throughout the crab, which is the primary cause of shellfish poisoning. The bacteria also contribute to the crab flesh losing its flavor and texture.

At the time of death, the intestines release gastric juices. These juices cause the flesh to decompose and therefore become unhealthy for consumption.

On the other hand, crab meat that is cleaned and pre-cooked can be stored in the refrigerator for an extended time. There is no immediate danger of poisoning, and the flesh remains light and flaky as long as it is stored correctly.

Crabs are an excellent source of proteins, minerals, and omega fatty acids, provided they are consumed within the required time period. For the best flavor, cook the crab while it is still alive. (You won’t consume the crab while it is alive!!)

How To Tell If A Crab Is Dead

There is something satisfying about traipsing the seas shore searching for a fresh crab to be cooked over an open fire with just butter, lemon juice, and garlic. Even to the untrained eye, there are several ways for you to tell when a crab is dead. 

Fresh crabs have a mild, slightly salty smell. But the smell emitting from a dead crab is rancid and fishy. The smell alone can prevent you from consuming crab for a long time.

Crabs are cold-blooded, and they can remain still for extended periods when temperatures drop. So if a crab is unmoving, you cannot immediately assume it is dead.

One of the ways to determine if a crab is dead is to check the eyes. When you touch one of the eyes, and it moves, the crab is alive.

You also can probe the mouthparts. When you prod them and notice movement, the crab is alive and suitable for consumption.

You can also try sprinkling water over the crab. Water will revive a crab if it has been stunned and unable to move.

Another test for you to determine if the crab is alive is to pull on the legs. When you pull the leg back, and it falls back into its original position, you can verify the crab is alive. However, if the leg hangs limply, you can be assured the crab is dead and best to be avoided.

These are clearly visible signs of whether the crab is alive or dead. But always be aware the crab is alive and take precautions to prevent it from taking a munch out of you!

How To Store Dead Or Fresh Crabs

You might not have time to eat the fresh crab that you have caught, so how do you store fresh crabs for eating later?

The ideal conditions to store dead crabs are in a cold storage facility, either a cooler box or refrigerator. The cold temperatures halt the spread of bacteria, thereby preventing shellfish poisoning. This way, you can be assured that the crabs are safe for consumption.

A helpful hint is to find a cooler box with a drain plug. That way, when you’re ready to prepare your crabs, you drain the excess water leaving you with fresh crawling crabs. You can also extend the lifespan of the crab by placing it into a cooler box filled with a layer of absorbent paper and ice.

In this way, you keep the crabs alive for several days, provided there is sufficient ice and fresh air for circulation.

Under the right conditions, the different varieties of crabs can be kept alive for several days. Below are some popular crab varieties and how long they may be stored.

Spider crabs are exceptionally flavorful and ideal for sandwiches and various kinds of pasta. However, it is recommended you consume them when alive and fresh. Spider crabs are temperamental and sensitive creatures. When a spider crab is threatened it keels over and dies!

The brown crab is extremely popular amongst many people. They are a high source of Omega fatty acids and easy to harvest. These crab types can be stored for up to 4 days under the right conditions.

You can store them in the freezer drawer of your refrigerator with a damp cloth over them that prevents the crabs from drying out.

A word of caution when storing crabs this way is not to overcrowd them in the drawer and always check for any dead crabs. The dead crabs must be cooked immediately!

There are no adverse effects in cooked crabs. The meat can be pre-cooked and stored like other prepared foods in the coldest part of the refrigerator and in sealed containers. They can be stored for up to four days after preparation.

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If you’re planning on eating crab, it’s essential to know that dead crabs are not safe to eat. When crabs die, their bodies decompose, and they can become contaminated with bacteria and other toxins. Consuming a contaminated crab causes shellfish poisoning. So, be sure only to eat live crabs.