Without careful and thorough cooling or freezing in the first 7 hours after catching, fresh seafood products will deteriorate very fast. This allows pathogenic micro-bacteria to contaminate and histamines to decompose the seafood, the process of which may increase the risk of food poisoning.
An understanding of fish characteristics is essential for a seafood retailer in handling its products as this is closely related to their quality. As an example, dark-muscled, high fat fishes are so easily oxidized and foul-smelling that, without proper and careful handling, their shelf life will be very limited. Seafood products can also turn into sources of various dangerous chemical substances such as neurotoxic contaminants that threaten our health if they were caught from chemically contaminated areas.
The Principles of Good Handling of Seafood
Maintaining the freshness of the fishes is the key to a good system of seafood products handling. A retailer needs to pay a very careful attention to the so-called “3C Principle” of seafood products handling, which represents the principles of “CLEAN, COLD, and handle with CARE", in order it to guarantee the best quality of its products.
1. Keep CLEAN. Continuously protect products from any contaminant.
2. Handle with CARE. Avoid handling the products in careless manners such as letting them fall or scratched. Make sure to keep the packages away from any kind of damage.
3. Keep it COLD. Maintain the cooling chain by:
a. Proper and immediate cooling, either by means of refrigeration or burying the products under ice cubes.
b. If you prefer freezing, do it immediately, quickly, and completely before you store the products.
c. Add some additional cover if necessary.
d. Keep temperature fluctuation at minimum during storage time.
Make sure that the storage temperature is always lower than 4°C (for cold product) or lower than -18°C (for frozen food) at every point in the cooling chain in order to meet international GMP standard.
Some product-related points should be carefully accomplished by a retailer when it is accepting seafood in its storeroom. They are: quality check; the implementation of product admission procedures; temperature check; transportation hygiene check; and the strict implementation of cooling chain procedures (from admission to storeroom).
The implementation of a good cooling chain system is the key to products’ safety and quality, starting right at the time when the fishes were caught. During admission, seafood products must be examined for compliance with standard specifications. The focus of the examination is tailored on the physical condition of the product(s) it may concern, which includes the state of the eyes and skin, gills and stomach, head, color and smell (in fishes), eyes and shells, flesh, eyes, skin and neck (in squids). The hygiene of the transporting equipment and containers is also an important thing to check.
It is essential not to let the products stay for too long in open air at the admission spot. It should last less than 15 minutes for the whole checks to complete and the products should be returned to the storing containers immediately.
Handling while Storing
As soon as the examination completed and the products are accepted at the admission spot, they should be immediately put in a closed container filled with ice cubes and labeled with the date of admission, and stored at the appropriate temperature. The storage temperature should then be kept at 2-4°C (for cold products), or below -18°C (for frozen products). The followings are important things to note in storing seafood products:
• The storeroom must be neat with the lamp and the fan(s) working properly, door(s) easily opened and closed, and a clean plastic curtain.
• Avoid mixing different types of products.
• No other objects are allowed in the storeroom and storing containers than the seafood.
• Provide each type of seafood products with enough protection.
• Use only clean storing containers.
• No customer’s shopping cart is allowed to be present in the cold storeroom.
• Make sure to apply a strict cleaning and washing procedures for the products, and keep the storeroom clean.
• Stick a waterproof label on every single package and organize all products in such a way that FIFO principle can easily be implemented. • Make sure to implement any procedure that is intended to keep, improve, and guarantee the safety and quality of the products.
Handling Products on the Displays
Displaying is the most vulnerable phase for seafood products to go as this is the phase in which they are exposed to open air, making them susceptible to contaminants that threaten their quality. Cold seafood should be placed in a showcase with adequate amount of ice cubes or blocks and sprinkled with enough ice cubes to keep the temperature below 4°C.
The display should be equipped with an ice wall construction of 15x10x10 cm in size to provide standard temperature to maintain the products’ quality. Frozen seafood should be stored in a frozen showcase with a temperature set below -18°C. Marinated, ready-to-cook seafood can be put in trays lined with pieces of banana leave and placed in a cold showcase to keep the temperature below 4°C.
Provide the visiting customers with a long metal claw to prevent their hands from contaminating the seafood. Put the metal claw in a separate place, and do not let the visitors to put it right on the seafood display or tray as it may contaminate the products.
To maintain the quality and safety of its seafood products, a retailer should implement a good and right handling procedure by keep them fresh in a good system of cooling chain. It is also obliged not to use any prohibited chemical material to extend the shelf time of the products.•••