Message in a bottle


Myths and facts: how “fresh” are fresh and chilled seafood? Part 1


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How fresh is the fish we are offered in our supermarkets? What is “fresh fish”? and when was it caught? How old is the seafood out on offer?


When we ask the question “is it fresh?” it is not uncommon to receive an answer stating that the seafood was brought in yesterday or this very morning. But what does that really mean?

Considering the answer given and the technologies at hand today it seems logical that the seafood on display at our local store is brought there the very same day. But due to the complexity of logistics from catch to carry the truth is that it may be several days old when it reaches our hands. By then the decomposing process has been going on for a while.

The definition of “fresh” is broader than we hope it would be. The fish marketed as “fresh” is often chilled product that has been transported wast distances in a container on ice or in a refrigerator. When mixed with the day catch fish, that has been caught on the same day, it is hard to tell the difference for it is marketed as the same and the latter is harder to find. It is also known that any type of seafood that is not considered as frozen, is mistakenly sold as fresh or chilled.

And thus seafood that has been on ice for 10 days, transported hundres of miles but is not frozen, is still considered “fresh” until it is inedible. Chilling and refrigerating seafood does not stop the decomposing process, only slows it down. The only way to stop the process is to freeze seafood and thus preserve the taste and nutritional benefits of it.

Most fishing vessels catch their quota in the space of a couple of days and sell it to distributors when they land. It is rarely known if the catch baught is from the first or last day or the trip. Ships that are out at sea more than a few days freeze their product to ensure the quality and nutrients last and the decomposing process stops. There are day-catch ships that fish on the coast and distribute mostly to nearby areas or for their own consumption. The truly fresh fish is only day-catch that reaches our plates the very same day or is frozen at sea and broght to us directly. The latter is the technique we bring with Crabit to ensure the maximum quality and freshness of the produce form far away.

The road from catch to our shelves may be arduous and lengthy. There may only be two important parts in the path – the catcher and the consumer but the way our product comes to our stores is not that linear. It mostly consists of the catcher, the processor, the wholesaler, the distributor, the retailer and finally the consumer. Due to the number of handlers the usual time from catch to store self is about a week. And every added handler adds a day or two to the overall time.

In the worst case scenario the catch is frozen on the boat and then shipped from the Atlantic to China for processing where it is thawed and fileted. Then the file is refrozen and sent to Europe for further processing a packaging where it is thawed and frozen once more. Then it makes its way to either the retailer or another wholesaler. In that case the transport time may exceed a week and reach a total of two weeks.

This constitutes the following example: the ship makes its catch in 2-3 days, processing takes a minimum of 1 day, transportation to the central warehouse of the supplier from the Atlantic to Estonia takes from 2-4 days. From there it takes another day for the produce to reach the shelves. Thus the approximate length of the chain is 6-9 days. The sell-by-date of Atlantic Cod is around 10-12 days. This entails that by the time we begin to consume our seafood, it may already have spoiled.

Which techniques are used to make seafood more attractive to the consumer? How and what are we sold? Answers in part 2.