Check out my latest nature-centric photography collection & fine-art prints.
prev post

How to store live clams, mussels & oysters

Steamed clams | Something New For Dinner Cooking with mussels, clams & oysters is not difficult, the key is to clean and store them properly. The important thing to remember is that mussels and clams are alive and you want to keep them alive until you cook them. Here is what you need to remember:


You want to store mussels, clams and oysters in refrigerated temperatures about 35 degrees fahrenheit. If they get too warm they will die. Consider transporting them home in an ice chest.

How to Store Clams

When you buy shellfish, they will often be packaged in a plastic bag. Keep the top of the bag open while you transport them so they can breath. When you get home transfer them into an open container.


For clams and oysters, place them in a bowl and cover with a damp towel. Do not submerge them in water. You can surround the container in ice, but do not submerge the clams or mussels in ice as that will kill them. Alternatively, they can be stored in the fridge in a burlap bag.

[content_upgrade cu_id="15680"]Get our free cookbook: 15 Recipes That Will Make You Look Like A Star[content_upgrade_button]CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD NOW[/content_upgrade_button][/content_upgrade]

Skip the cornmeal or breadcrumbs and purge in salt water

Some recipes will tell you to put live shellfish in a bowl of water and sprinkle cornmeal or breadcrumbs on top of them. Do not do this. The idea was that the shellfish will feed on the cornmeal and clean out their grit. This process only shortens their lives.
Instead, soak them in salted water using about 4 teaspoons of sea salt per quart of water. Allow them to soak 20 minutes to an hour. Lift the clams out of the soaking bowl, leaving the sand and grit behind.

Do scrub

Right before cooking scrub the shells under cold water to remove any debris.

How to tell if your shellfish are still alive

The first test is to smell them. If they smell fresh like the sea, they are good. If they are stinky, toss them.
The second test is the squeeze test. If you find some of your shell fish have opened, give them a little squeeze.  If they try to close on their own, they are still alive. If they spring open and don't retract, toss them.
The final test, is cooking them. Discard any shellfish that do not open on their own when they are cooked.

How long can you store live shellfish?

In proper containers, fresh shellfish can be stored at least 24 hours and some sources say 48 hours and more. I prefer to buy them the same day I eat them.

Blog Update

This post was first published on April 29, 3013 and was updated on February 18, 2023


  1. John F Hogan says:

    Clams should be purged in the water from which they were collected. If that water is not available, sea salt dissolved in water will do. However, corn meal does NOTHING to get the clams to purge. And they need to sit in the seawater/sea salt water for a few hours to complete the purge. You’ll know they are purged when the water is clear but there is sediment of black matter that the clams expelled.

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Hi John, it sounds like you are quite experienced and lucky enough to live somewhere where you collect your own clams. Collecting my own clams is on my bucket list. I agree the cornmeal is a bad idea. Thank you for writing in. I appreciate your tip on purging in the same water the clams were collected in. That is new information for me. Thank you!

  2. Richard Patrick says:

    We have dug our own clams since I was a child. For over 50 years we have dug and cooked our own clams in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The following if for little neck clams, not Razor clams.

    If you dig your own, try and collect some clean salt water from where you got the clams and take the water home with you. 1 to 5 gallons will do depending on how many clams you take home and how long you want to keep your clams. IF you cant take any water home you can make your ow…see below.

    When you get home, wash the clams with the garden hose and briskly rub them in your hands to help clean them off and if you find any that are full of sand toss them.

    Place the clean clams in a container (I use a small ice chest or 5 gallon bucket) and add the water you brought home with you to the clams, enough to cover them by an inch. You don’t have to use all the water if you have more than you need save it for later if you want to keep the clams for a few days.

    Let the clams soak in the water for as long as you can. Soak for at least 3 to 4 hours. You soak them this way so they can cycle water and clean themselves out a bit. You will see black matter float in the water and sand at the bottom of your container. We like to let them soak for at lease 12 hours and often soak for a day or two. They will stay alive easily for 3 to 5 days in the water if you keep the water between 33 and 45 degrees.

    Some people add corn meal as soon as they cover the clams with the water. My dad was a big corn meal guy. We have used corn meal over the years but we don’t think it really adds anything to the flavor. Our experience is that corn meal does not kill them…we think its mostly some old wives tale about how it adds flavor and makes the clams cycle water more aggressively to clean them out…after fifty years our conclusion is its a waste of good corn meal.

    Keep the water cold while the clams are in it. Put the container with water in the refrigerator if possible. We have a large garage frig that we can put a five gallon bucket in and that works nice. You can also put ice in a zip lock bag and place that in the water with your clams. Do not add ice directly as that will dilute your sea water and kill the clams. If you use my ice in a bag trick don’t worry about the water getting too cold…when the ice melts add another bag of ice. You can also use a reusable ice block. Put the reusable ice block in a plastic bag if you are worried it might leak. Keep them out of the sun and as cool as possible with whatever you have at hand.

    You can tell if the clam is alive or dead. Live clams close up when you touch them n the water. If you look close live clams will move a little now and then. Dead clams are open and do not close when you touch them or pick them up. If you use my methods and try and keep your clams for days and days, watch for dead clams and toss them as soon as you find them. As long as the other clams are alive they are fine, you don’t need to worry about a dead clam “infecting” your other live clams with anything.

    If you don’t have sea water make your own. There is a chemical balance formula for this but it all comes down to this: The mixture is 3.5 teaspoons (1 heaping tablespoon) per 1 quart of water. You can use tap water. Make sure its cold you don’t want to warm the clams up with warm water. You can use regular table salt and tap water, or you can get a little groovy and use bottled water (one gallon containers at the store) and sea salt from the store. We have used both types of water and salt and both seem to work fine.

    If you throw out the old and change the water every 3 days your clams will live for a long time especially if you keep the water cold. We have kept clams alive in a bucket of hand made salt water, in the fridge, for a week or more. We simply change the water every 3 days. If you live close to the beach, just go get a fresh bucket of salt water and change it out that way.

    Cooking the clams:
    For this method you need a deep pan with a lid. Pull out your clams and rinse them off. Place the clams in a deep pan on the stove. Add a half cup of white wine…not too much. Add salt and pepper. Add chopped red pepper . Add chopped yellow onion, green onion or shallots…or a little of each. Add a small hand full of chopped garlic. Maybe a little oregano and throw in a bay leaf while you’re at it…okay now place the lid on and turn the heat up to medium high. THAT’S RIGHT you did NOT cover the clams with water…don’t do that. I know it will seem as if the pan is dry but it has a little white wine in there to start the process. If you don’t have a little white wine, red will work just fine. If you don’t have a little splash of wine use a splash of water.

    As the clams heat up they will steam and open and spill their nectar into the pan and that will steam, and so on, and so on. It will take about 6 to 15 minutes for the clams to cook depending on how many you have in the pan and the size of the clams. You will know when they are done because when you lift the lid and peak at them they will be open. All of the good c lams will open within a minute or two of each other. The pan should be boiling and steaming to get the clams to open. Don’t leave them on the stove any longer than a few minutes after they start to open.

    Pour the clams onto a deep platter and pour the nectar with all the ingredients over the top…you’re going to need wine and bread…enjoy

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Wow Richard! Thank you for all the great information. My post was meant for people like me who buy their clams. Your information is obviously based on lots of experience digging, transporting, storing and preparing your own clams. Thank you. Digging my own clams is now on my bucket list!

  3. Rose Manni says:

    Richard, can’t thank you enough for this. I would never have stored my clams properly without having seen this and lost $40 in steamers.

  4. Ruth M. says:

    All over the web they tell you not to soak the clams in water as it will kill them.
    However, I tried this method and it works great!
    So please ignore the net and try this method from a person who’s been harvesting them for years.

  5. betty n says:

    I got clams from a store and they came in plastic mesh bags. Do I cook them in that? Called store and they don’t know because they order them in and don’t open the box.

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      No! Do not cook them in the plastic bags. These bags are for storing the clams only.

  6. Richard J Walters says:

    I want to bring 250 to 300 clams from NY to Tenn. Any suggestions on how to pack them? The trip will take 24 hours I have a large cooler

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      I would pack the same way you would store them in the refrigerator. Keep them cold and on ice, but don’t drown them in water. Make sure your cooler stays cool.

  7. Debbie says:

    Richard Thank you for the detailed comments on storage & cooking. Can you recommend this type of storage for mussels too? Or best to just keep them on ice for storage? Any suggestions I welcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This