Best Practices for Maintaining Seafood

Seafood is one of the most expensive, perishable and delicate types of food that we eat, and it can be quite tricky to maintain. To best preserve this notably temperamental fare, a general rule of thumb is to keep seafood cold through refrigeration. Simple as it sounds, there are actually several different ways to refrigerate seafood to keep it fresh. These best practices, when executed properly, can mean all the difference for your customers when they finally sit down to enjoy a meal.

Seafood that’s meant to be sold and eaten within a few days is best refrigerated. However, some seafood will spoil quickly even in refrigeration. That’s because many fish and other seafood actually live in climates that are much colder than the environment in your fridge. Seafood blogger Hank Shaw explains that some cold-water fish like cod “spend their lives in water that is only a few degrees above freezing,” which is why fish is better maintained at much lower temperatures than other types of meat such as pork, chicken or beef. The solution is to put seafood on ice, even in the fridge. More specifically, fish should be submerged in a bed of flake (crushed) ice —rather than ice cubes, which “take too long to melt and can discolor the skin of the fish”—and then placed inside the refrigerator.

In the same vein, all seafood should be kept as close as possible to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This includes shellfish, such as oysters, clams and mussels. According to the NOAA Seafood Inspection Program, “fish can be held twice as long at 32 degrees as it can be at 37 degrees.” Those five degrees can make a dramatic difference when it comes to maintaining your seafood at its peak levels of freshness for longer.

Finally, don’t forget to drain and re-ice your seafood as it melts throughout the day. This isn’t just to keep the seafood clean. In fact, when fish is left to sit “in its own juices, the flesh deteriorates more rapidly.” This is one reason why it’s also not a good idea to let fish overlap one another on an ice display. To maintain maximum freshness, the best way to arrange your seafood in a refrigerated case is to set the fish on a cake rack inside a shallow pan filled with flake ice. If not on display, you can take further steps to maintain the seafood by covering the pan in plastic wrap or foil, which reduces the amount of moisture lost to the air, and then placing it in the refrigerator.

Proper refrigeration techniques can help you keep seafood at peak levels of freshness for longer periods of time. Most of these proven methods of preservation luckily require relatively little preparation. For example, it only takes a moment to submerge it in a bed of crushed ice. The rewards of spending time and effort on these best practices, however, are great. With just a few steps, you can ensure that the seafood that you sell is as fresh and delicious as it was the day it was caught, establishing yourself as a credible seafood market and gaining the loyalty of long-term, repeat customers.

Storing Fresh Fish
NOAA Seafood Inspection Program