Updated: October 8, 2013 8:54PM
Whether you’re slurping down the Old 1871 Oyster or another variety, you don’t need to be afraid to eat oysters, either at home or at a restaurant, if you pay a little bit of attention. “Oysters are an instant party,” says Palicki, but there are some things you need to note to make sure your party ends well.
Refrigeration: The months-with-an-R-rule may be as outdated as the telegraph, but it’s still important that oysters be well chilled at all times. If you buy oysters at the store, put them in the refrigerator as soon as you can and keep cold until serving. Don’t pack them in ice, though — melting ice made from chlorinated water can kill oysters.
Look and smell: All fresh oysters should be tightly closed; that means they are still alive. If one is open a tiny bit, tap on it. If it closes up, you’re fine. If not, the oyster probably is dead and you should toss it. Once shucked, oysters should smell fresh and a little salty. It should be plump and filled with liquid. If an oyster smells strange, don’t eat it. If you open it and there’s no liquid inside or the oyster looks shriveled, that means it’s old and has been sitting too long.
Ask before you buy: If you want to make sure that your oyster is fresh, ask to see the tag that came with the bag or box. Any reputable seafood market will show it; restaurants often keep their tags. They should be proud of how fresh their oysters are. If the tag says the oysters are weeks old, don’t eat them.
Volume matters: If you’re ordering oysters at a restaurant, head someplace that is selling hundreds of them. For your first outing, pick a place such as Shaw’s Crab House or GT Fish and Oyster that sells so many oysters they receive fresh ones regularly. You don’t want to be the only person in three weeks to order and be served from that sad bag of shells in the back of the refrigerator.