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Safe Selection and Handling of Fish and Shellfish

How to safely handle and select the best seafood

By Anna PaquinPublished 4 months ago 5 min read

Seafood refers to any form of aquatic life that is consumed as food by humans. It encompasses a wide range of organisms that inhabit both freshwater and marine environments. Seafood can include fish (both finfish and shellfish), crustaceans, molluscs, and other edible marine animals according to any seafood export company.

Safe selection and handling of seafood products like fish and shellfish by fish processing companies and other stakeholders is crucial because:

• Food Safety: These products, like any other food, can be a potential source of foodborne illnesses if not handled properly. They can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins that can cause illnesses such as salmonellosis, norovirus infection, Vibrio infection, or ciguatera poisoning. Safe selection and handling practices help minimize the risk of contamination and ensure the safety of consumers.

• Preventing Food Spoilage: According to the best yellowfin tuna exporters in the world, seafood is highly perishable and can spoil quickly if not handled correctly. Proper selection and handling techniques help maintain its quality and freshness, preventing spoilage and maintaining its taste, texture, and nutritional value.

• Allergen Management: Seafood is a common allergen, and for individuals with such allergies, even small amounts can trigger severe allergic reactions. Proper handling practices, such as preventing cross-contamination with other foods and clearly labelling these products, help individuals with allergies avoid consuming them unknowingly and potentially experiencing a life-threatening reaction.

• Quality Assurance: Safe selection and handling of seafood ensure that consumers receive high-quality products. This includes choosing those that are fresh, free from off-flavours or odours, and visually appealing. By adhering to proper handling practices, such as maintaining appropriate temperatures and preventing cross-contamination, the quality and integrity of seafood are preserved, ensuring a positive dining experience for consumers.

• Sustainability: Responsible selection and handling of these products also play a role in promoting sustainable fishing and aquaculture practices. By making informed choices and opting for products from well-managed, sustainable sources, consumers can contribute to the conservation of marine ecosystems and the long-term viability of such resources.

If seafood is not handled properly, several undesirable outcomes can occur:

• Foodborne Illness: It can be a source of various foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins. Improper handling, such as inadequate refrigeration, cross-contamination with raw seafood or other foods, or insufficient cooking, can lead to the proliferation of harmful microorganisms. Consuming contaminated fish and shellfish can result in illnesses like salmonellosis, norovirus infection, Vibrio infection, hepatitis A, or ciguatera poisoning. These illnesses can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, and in severe cases, they can lead to dehydration, organ damage, or even death.

• Spoilage: It is highly perishable and can spoil quickly if not handled correctly. Exposure to improper temperatures, such as leaving seafood at room temperature for an extended period or inadequate refrigeration, can promote bacterial growth and spoilage. Spoiled food may develop off-flavours, unpleasant odours, sliminess, or a change in texture, making it unpalatable and unsafe to consume.

• Allergic Reactions: Seafood is a common allergen, and individuals with seafood allergies can experience severe allergic reactions even from small amounts of exposure. Improper handling practices, such as using the same utensils or surfaces for seafood and other foods without proper cleaning, can lead to cross-contamination. This can result in the unintentional consumption of seafood allergens, triggering allergic reactions that range from mild symptoms like itching, hives, or swelling to severe anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic response.

• Loss of Nutritional Value: Improper handling practices, particularly prolonged storage or exposure to high temperatures, can degrade the nutritional value it offers. Essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids can deteriorate, reducing the health benefits associated with consuming seafood.

• Economic Loss: Improper handling practices can lead to financial losses for seafood businesses. Spoiled or contaminated seafood must be discarded, resulting in wasted resources and financial setbacks. Additionally, if consumers experience foodborne illnesses or have negative experiences due to poor quality, it can damage the reputation of suppliers and restaurants, leading to a loss of customers and revenue.

It is essential to handle seafood properly to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses, maintain quality and freshness, prevent allergic reactions, preserve nutritional value, and avoid economic losses within the industry.

How to select and handle fish and shellfish safely?

Selecting and handling fish and shellfish safely involves following these guidelines:

• Purchase from reputable sources: Buy seafood from reputable suppliers, such as trusted fish markets, grocery stores, or seafood specialty stores. They are more likely to follow proper handling practices and provide fresher and safer products.

• Check for freshness: Look for signs of freshness when selecting fish and shellfish. They should have clear, bright eyes, shiny skin or shells, and a mild sea-like odour. Avoid products with dull eyes, slimy texture, or strong, unpleasant odours, as they may indicate spoilage.

• Ensure proper storage temperature: Keep fish and shellfish cold to maintain freshness. When purchasing, place them in a separate bag and store them in a cooler with ice or in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Maintain a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or below to inhibit bacterial growth.

• Prevent cross-contamination: To avoid cross-contamination, separate raw fish and shellfish from other foods, especially ready-to-eat items. Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and containers for seafood and other ingredients. Clean and sanitize all surfaces and utensils thoroughly after each use.

• Practice proper thawing: If you need to thaw frozen seafood, do so safely. The best method is to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, use the defrost function of your microwave or place the sealed seafood package in a cold-water bath (changed every 30 minutes). Never thaw such food products at room temperature, as it promotes bacterial growth.

• Cook thoroughly: Cook fish and shellfish to a safe internal temperature to kill any potential pathogens. The general recommendation is to cook fish until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) and shellfish until the shells open or they turn opaque and firm.

• Store leftovers safely: If you have leftovers, store them promptly in the refrigerator (at 40°F or below) and consume them within a day or two. Reheat seafood leftovers thoroughly until they are steaming hot.

• Be aware of allergies: Be cautious of allergies. If you or someone you are serving has a known allergy, ensure that seafood and other allergens are handled separately to prevent cross-contact. Read labels carefully for potential allergen information.


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