There are two ways to approach this question:
You Found a Dead Crab in the Wild, and You Want to Cook It
This is a VERY bad idea. Since you don’t know where it came from, how it died, or how long it has been dead, it is a very bad idea to eat a dead crab you found in the bay.
When a blue crab or Dungeness crab dies, its body begins to decompose rapidly, and harmful bacteria can multiply, leading to potential foodborne illnesses. The freshness and quality of seafood are vital for your health and enjoyment.
To ensure a safe and pleasurable dining experience, always choose live or freshly cooked crabs, as consuming dead crabs can pose serious health risks.
Crabs are highly perishable, and the decomposition process begins almost immediately. Factors such as temperature, time since death, and handling conditions can affect the rate of decomposition.
You Caught Crabs Recently, But One or More of Them May Have Died
If you caught crabs that were alive, but may have died in transit to your house or in a VERY short time window before you cook them, you might still be able to eat them. However, you need to get them into the boiling pot ASAP!
You can boil and cook a dead crab if it has just recently died within an hour or so.
If you are unsure whether a crab is still safe to cook, it is advisable to follow these guidelines:
- Check for signs of life: Live crabs should exhibit movement, including leg twitching or claw pinching. If the crab shows no signs of life, it is likely dead.
- Observe the smell: Dead crabs emit a strong, pungent odor that resembles ammonia or rotting seafood. If the crab has a foul smell, it is best to discard it.
- Examine the shell: A healthy crab’s shell will be firm and intact. If the shell appears soft, discolored, or damaged, it may indicate the crab is dead.
- Assess the eyes: Live crabs have bright, lively eyes. If the eyes are dull, sunken, or cloudy, it is a sign of a dead crab.