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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.

            1. Standard saying in the restaurant biz, which I adapted to home: "When in doubt, throw it out".

              Is it worth calling up Ralph on the Great White Telephone? Is the hospital food really that good?

              1. Echoing most of the posters, throw them out.

                1. I'll be contrary and say if you know they weren't broken when you bought them go ahead and cook them (quickly, as they're near death once you dropped them).

                  Once they're cooked I don't eat unopened shells, and I examine clams (or mussles) in broken shells very closely -- if they look,say, comparatively more shriveled and grey... I won't eat them. This works out pretty well, very few bad tasting ones and no sickness over many decades.

                  1. I wouldn't take chances with shellfish.

                    on a side note, i am amazed at how many people don't do ONE cull of their shellfish, let alone two. I recall a party i attended once, when someone came out with a boiler of mussels...which people eagerly dove into. I might have eaten one, not being a huge fan of them really, and already wary of them cooked by others, and was in conversation with the co-host just chatting about how they were good but how i didn't often make them just because they were a bit of a pain to check etc before steaming. This person expressed surprise and a "wow i didn't know that" sort of thing, "I don't do that". Ask me if i kept eating......

                    1. I would say if they were from Ipswich or Essex,keep them all.If they are from Maine,toss the broken ones.If they are from Cape Cod or the Narragansett Bay,toss them all because you shouldn't have bought them in the first place.

                      5 Replies
                        1. re: hungry_pangolin

                          i second that request....do clams from Ipswich or Essex never die until you threaten them with the pot or something? Unless the little suckers can speak up and tell you that they're fine and dandy after being crushed...how were you ever supposed to tell if they were dead before or after you dropped them?

                          1. re: im_nomad

                            An update: I bought and dropped the clams in the morning and put them all in the refrigerator. By dinner time, everything still smelled fine, but I took a middle course. The few that were so broken the shells were in pieces so much that there was no way I could give the shells the normal scrub, I threw out. The couple that had 1 big crack all the way through the shell, but were still essentially whole and scrubbable, I cooked. Everything tasted fine and there were no adverse side effects.

                            1. re: marcia2

                              Ahh, then by raf945's standards, the clams must have been from Maine...

                              Raf945, we are waiting for an explanation!!! Clue us in on the joke!

                              1. re: moh

                                Cape Cod or the Narragansett Bay is not the cleanest place in the world. You get a lot of run off from the streets, lawns etc. You get expecially in East Greenwich cove people dumping the waist from their boats into the water where people go clamming. It is not uncommon to see toilet paper with brown streaks floating by. The clams feed on the same nasty water. I won't eat anything from these waters. Least not knowingly. I once had a sole from E.G cove, lead to servere shakes, projectile vomiting, fever, cold sweats, trouble breathing, and liver to shut down and 2 weeks in the hospital. Pesticides were in the fish's flesh.

                      1. I'm too cheap to throw 'em out. What I get is very fresh, however. Either I dig "em or get 'em from one of my students that dig. Ain't got sick.........yet.
                        I don't want no burger!
                        I don't want no Spam!
                        I don't care if it's boiled or fried
                        Just give me a big friggin' clam!
                        (The Wicked Good Band)