Keeping Seafood Cold and Fresh with Flake Ice

For Seafood, the Oldest Refrigeration Method is Still the Best

It was once a tell-tale sign that you were of a certain generation if you called your household refrigerator the “icebox.”  While the electric household refrigerator made its official debut in 1915, many people used iceboxes into the 1950s, and the name persisted even beyond that.  While the term “icebox” has largely disappeared from common parlance, the use of ice as a cooling method has not.  In fact, for many applications, cooling with ice is the preferred method.  This is especially true with food products, and perhaps no more so than the cooling and preservation of fresh seafood.  Some of the most advanced and high quality supermarkets in the world prefer flake ice over mechanical refrigeration for seafood, and no wonder: flake ice provides economical, sustainable, and high quality cooling that helps seafood retain moisture, flavor, freshness, and shelf life.

High Quality Cooling for Supermarkets

What is it that makes flake ice the perfect method for preserving fresh seafood?  There are many elements, one of the most important being the combination of cooling and moisture.  Seafood requires both low temperatures and high levels of moisture for optimal preservation—cold air by itself doesn’t do the job.  In fact, blowing cold air will often desiccate the fish, drawing out moisture and leaving dried-out, lower quality cuts of seafood.  Flake ice helps seafood retain its moisture because of ice’s physical properties while melting.  As ice melts and evaporates, the seafood remains moist because the ice has already saturated the evaporative capacity of the air.  This makes ice the ideal chiller for all different types of seafood, making not only for an attractive display but also allowing fresh fish to retain the highest levels of quality.

Room to Grow

Even though science and the experience of many retailers bear out the important qualities of ice in seafood cooling, many stores still use mechanical refrigeration methods.  This often results in dried-out, unappetizing seafood displays that don’t move the product.  Mechanical refrigeration will usually entail cold, dry air blowing over fish for long periods of time—often up to 12 hours.  This process often dries out seafood until large portions of the display are simply unsaleable.  Mechanical dehydration methods can also

cause seafood to shrink, reducing its sellable weight.  In addition, some seafood cases employ misters in an attempt to rehydrate the fish.  But freshwater hydrators do not mix well with saltwater fish, so the hydration achieved is temporary at best.

Ill-displayed and poorly preserved seafood end up contributing to low sales.  Throughout the United States, fresh seafood currently comprises only about 1.8% of total seafood sales.  Well maintained and displayed fish can help increase these numbers substantially, evidenced by the success of retailers such as Wegmans and Whole Foods.

Cooling Efficiency Borne out by Scientific Studies

Studies performed at the University of Alaska have demonstrated that fillets of cod displayed on a bed of ice outlast indirect cooling methods.  This was performed with two separate displays, one with the cod in a bed of ice with light top ice, and the other with fillets in perforated metal trays that were buried in ice.  Using otherwise identical display methods, the cod that was placed directly in ice outlasted the indirectly cooled cod.  The fillets with direct flake ice contact lasted at least three days longer than the indirectly cooled ones, maintaining excellent levels of quality in parameters such as brightness, texture, odor, color, and gaping.  Packing the cod directly in ice not only benefited its appearance and moisture, but gave it extra shelf life, an invaluable asset for retailers trying to ensure that their fresh seafood sales remain profitable.

Retailers Rely on Quality Flake Ice from Howe

Whether customers need 1000 lbs or 40,000 lbs of flake ice per day, our Rapid Freeze® flake ice machines deliver the best ice quality in the industry.  Our flake ice is widely used in the seafood industry, from fishing operations to retail display.  Seafood packed in flake ice helps maintain the quality of fish from the moment it is caught to the moment it is sold—and better quality fish will keep customers coming back for more.  To learn more about the quality flake ice machines available from Howe, please contact us directly.

Graph courtesy of the University of Alaska's Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center.