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Feb 11, 2008 07:29 AM

Broken clams safe to eat?

I bought some clams at the fish store this morning and they were all whole and unbroken then. On the way out to the car, I managed to drop the bag. Some of the clams broke, not just cracked, but actually shells in pieces.

Googling for info about the safety of broken clams gets me info about the safety of clams that are broken when harvested, but nothing about my situation.

All the clams are in the refrigerator now. Does anyone know if the broken clams should be safe to eat steamed for dinner tonight?

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  1. Personally, I would pick the broken ones out and not eat or cook them.

    I'm not sure clams can live with broken shells, so they may be dead already. Shellfish have a tendency to go bad quickly when dead.

    Just my opinion, but I'd ditch the broken ones to be on the safe side.

    1. I think the rule is to throw out shellfish if it is dead. If it died at the market it may have been rotting for quite awhile. In your situation time is running out. You could check the clams before cooking them to see if they smell off.

      1. I'd throw them out for the reasons stated by others.

        1. I'll dare to go out on a limb and say that for shells that aren't totally broken "apart," if "the animal" itself is still able to hold the shell that's still there properly shut, they're still alive and presumably safe. If shells are broken enough that you can't really tell, or don't trust your judgment on the question, toss 'em.

          6 Replies
          1. re: MikeG

            Actually, dead bivalves hold their shells shut pretty tenaciously, too, if they died with their shells closed.

            1. re: ricepad

              Then why does one only get rid of open bivalves on the grounds of their being dead? I also grew up, well a big chunk of years on Cape Cod, and while I didn't cook them at that age, I messed my share of clams and qahogs in the water :) and live ones might give a tiny bit with a thumbnail but they resisted like hell, big clams being almost impossible, or alternatively dangerous, to try to open that way without an implement. (In 8 years, I never found a single whole scallop in swimmable/divable water and you rarely see them for sale, so I do't know if they behave similarly, I assume so.)

              1. re: MikeG

                The rule of thumb with bivalves is easy. You can't tell just by looking at them if they're alive or dead, because in either condition, they may be open or closed. If dead, however, they're not going to move: if open and dead, they'll stay open, and if closed and dead, they'll stay closed. If they're alive and open, however, they'll close when you 'threaten' them (do this by rapping a couple together). If they're alive and closed, when you cook them they'll open slightly (I think they're trying to cool off).

                That's why you need to do TWO culls of your bivalves. When raw, toss the ones that are open that remain open when rapped. Then after cooking them, toss the ones that have remained closed during the cooking process, because they were dead when you cooked them.

                1. re: ricepad

                  Well, this is why I said "if you don't trust your judgment, toss" - and also "properly closed." But also why I added the comments about the animal being able to hold the shell closed, and running your thumbnail into the shell, etc.. If they're broken up badly enough to not be able to do any of the above, obviously, they should be tossed, they were either dead upon purchase or died after being broken up. Even in the fridge those will probably have started to smell up by evening, for that matter. Dead clam isn't a pretty smell. :(

                  1. re: MikeG

                    Yes, but your advice would also imply that a closed shell is safe (depending what you mean by "properly closed"), and it may not be. If "properly closed" means 'by active muscular tension' as opposed to 'rigor mortis', then yes, you're right. Then again, it is pretty near impossible to tell if a shell is being held by muscular tension or rigor mortis. And I would not be surprised if a live clam with a broken shell did NOT open during cooking.

                    1. re: ricepad

                      At the risk of beating a dead horse, right, that's what I meant about muscular tension. I wouldn't have thought clams went into rigor, for no particular reason, and I've encountered mostly dead ones that will yield much more readily with a thumbnail - they just don't "fight back" at all - it's a different feel.

                      But as to that, I guess I didn't read enough into the OP to realize this person probably should *not* trust their judgment just because they have no basis for it if they only just learned about open/closed, dead/alive. A case of familiarity breeding a over-casualness, I guess.

          2. Toss the broken ones; it's not worth the risk. Make do with the remainder or buy more. I am a slave to shellfish, despite 3 episodes where I was afterward wretching on the ground with convulsions. But I still have a pulse and still love them. No point in tempting the devil.
            Besides, they have already sacrificed their wonderful juices, and nobody wants to crunch on the grit of the tiny shards.