The most common question we’ve faced since Fishvish started and probably the most common question any fish monger has ever had to answer since time immemorial. Having asked the question do we really expect him to say no it’s stale?
Living on the Coast
If I live on the coast my concept of fresh fish will be very different from a guys living a few hundred kilometers inland. Strangely neither of us will be wrong with our differing concepts of fresh. It’s what we’re used to. The point is that both of us measure freshness based on what we know we can get. The person living inland knows that his fish can only get to him 2-4 days after catch, at best. In most cases maybe longer. He has already mentally adjusted to this and his expectations have been lowered without him even having realized it.
There is much comfort to be gained from buying from the same guy week after week, years on end, never having to question him about why he thinks it’s fresh; we just take his word for it.
Fishvish currently sells frozen fish so it might seem logical that we’d try to put down “fresh” fish. However, that is not the case at all. We are sure we can get fresh fish to Pune (maybe some do already but I haven’t seen it yet) but a little bit of work is involved. And it will not happen overnight. We’ve been learning about all these factors that affect freshness at really close quarters for the last 3 and 1/2 years.
For us “fresh” didn’t stop at just the fish being non-frozen. There were so many factors affecting the “freshness” or as we now say “quality” of fish. How is the fish stored on the boat after catch? What are the handling procedures? How much sun and/or air is it being exposed to before reaching shore? Is there adequate melt-water drainage?
We worked it out over time and drilled it down to the following ideal conditions to be met that are required to ensure quality and freshness. These will be our guidelines in the event that we decide to offer non-frozen seafood.
Control over sourcing and transport of the product to city of choice.
All non-frozen fish must be transported in temperature controlled vehicles.
All non-frozen fish must be vacuum sealed prior to transport – minimize air contact.
If ice containers are used, they must have melt-water drainage.
Fish handling has fixed processes and they must be followed to the T.
Fish storage must be designed to avoid bruising.
We have found very few suppliers willing to go the distance to ensure their fish products are actually fresh. Following these rules is costly mind you and time is still of essence and therefore non-frozen fish will always tend to be more expensive. Nothing wrong with that, if you really want high quality seafood right?
If all of the above rules are followed, we believe that non-frozen fish can actually be termed “fresh” and the shelf life will increase by a few days for sure. But this is where fresh fish runs into a wall. No matter what you do, non-frozen fish will eventually start to go bad. Not in a 2 or 3 days, maybe not even in a week. But it will go bad.
Flash or Blast Freezing on the other hand is usually applied to seafood within hours of catch. The technology has come of age and with the use of ice water glazing (creating a thin sheet of ice cover all around the fish preventing exposure to air) as part of the process of IQF, the products’ freshness or quality is locked in. Fish are brought down to -40° C in a just a few minutes and this gives the product a shelf life of over 18 months when ideally stored.
It is important to note that flash frozen is not some magic mantra to high quality seafood. There are processes to be followed and ideal conditions to be maintained during transport and long term storage. It’s just that given ideal conditions for both non-frozen and frozen seafood products, the frozen products have a far better chance of remaining fresh. The frozen product will also be available throughout the year and will probably be better priced more often than not. There are environmental issues that play a part too. Frozen products cost less to transport and store and create a far smaller carbon foot print than non-frozen seafood products.
Both forms of seafood have their pros and cons. The defining factor will probably be proximity to the coast. And that in itself may not matter in the long run.