For the same shellfish (like Little Neck clams),

  • Some supermarkets keep them in tanks with running water:

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  • While other supermarkets fridge them dry, without water:

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Does the storage method affect the quality of the product, and if yes, how? As a consumer, which is preferable?

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    Quality is not ethnicity-related. The clams are blissfully ignorant of cultural context, and thus the question was rephrased neutrally. – Stephie Jan 22 at 12:39
  • I assume in the 2nd photo, the pans are laid over ice ? – Max Jan 22 at 13:59
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    This is an extremely difficult question to answer because it depends on many factors, mostly water quality. In a clean and cool water system you can keep shellfish alive almost indefinitely but a filthy, lukewarm system will breed disease like no tomorrow. I don't really have any sources so I'm not going to post this as a full answer but this is the bit I know. – Borgh Jan 22 at 14:26

Temperature is the most important factor in shellfish storage.

Also, keeping shellfish in fresh water (compared to sea water) is not a good thing.

From the British Columbia Center for Disease Control (pdf)

"Do not put live shellfish in a closed container or into fresh water (the shellfish will suffocate and die)".

Anecdotal, most of the shellfish I've seen in either supermarkets or in specialty stores are either directly on ice or in pans over ice; but never under running water or in water.

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For shellfish like clams and mussels, it's actually possible for a fishmonger to keep them alive. Keeping them in clean, cold, circulated SALT water is best, because that allows them to stay alive but dormant. Obviously, it doesn't get fresher than live.

For fish, this is not an option. Most fishmongers receive the fish already dead, so the best practice is to keep it on ice, with proper drainage. That will ensure the best shelf life and quality.

That whole foods with dry storage may very well be cold enough to keep those clams from spoiling, but they're certainly too dry to stay alive.

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  • Sorry. Your answer is too confusing. (1) Why best to keep shell fish in cold running salt water, but not FISH? (2) Why's it best to keep fish on ice, if "it doesn't get fresher than live"? – Nai Jan 23 at 8:17
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    @PamelaLee Fish are generally killed and frozen during the fishing process. It's not an option. – Sneftel Jan 23 at 9:46
  • As @PamelaLee said, fish aren't often sold live (at least in the US, as I can't comment on the rest of the world). They usually arrive at the store filleted and frozen, so live isn't an option. The best thing is to keep them on ice, to ensure they're very cold and therefore don't degrade quickly. Bivalves (oysters, clams, etc.) are a different story. They're much easier to keep alive than fish. In cold salt water they will essentially go into "power saver mode" and stay alive for quite a while. Since live=fresh, this is the best method for storage. – Andrew Sheridan Jan 24 at 13:45
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    i forgot to write that in asian supermarkets, many fish are kept alive in tanks in running water. – Nai Jan 26 at 23:13

Keeping any seafood alive and healthy in water is difficult. The water needs to closely match the water from the fishery where it was caught, needs to be kept filtered, clean, oxygenated, and at the proper temperate. Note that OCEAN WATER can't be trivially recreated from tap water and table salt. Table salt is refined to remove certain "oceany" things, and tap water often has chemicals (like chlorine) added for health & safety.

Even if multiple fish come from the same fishery, different depths of water have different qualities (such as temperature), so different seafood would need to be kept in different tanks with different requirements. This adds complexity & cost to the shipping and storage via this method.

In North America, fish is usually shipped on ice, rather than alive, because water requirements are so diverse, in addition to the difficulty/cost of shipping tanks of water large enough for fish to safely swim. Most fish die in air, so water is the only way to keep them alive.

With shellfish, they are capable of living out of water for about a week, so long as they are kept at temperate and have access to fresh air. As such, this is often the "best" option to maximize freshness and minimize cost.

Crabs and lobster are sometimes sold in tanks, as the "math" is a little bit different related to their mobility needs when alive. This leads to a more expensive product, but consumers are willing to pay for fresh product.

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