Always purchase fish from a dealer that maintains high quality. Based on FDA’s Food Code, here are some ways of spotting a safe fish dealer:
• Employees should be in clean clothing and wearing hair coverings.
• They should not be smoking, eating or playing with their hair.
• They should not be sick or have any open wounds.
• Employees should be wearing disposable gloves when handling food and change
• gloves after doing nonfood tasks and after handling raw fish.
• Fish should be displayed on a thick bed of fresh — not melting — ice preferably in a case or under some type of cover. Fish should be arranged with the bellies down so that the melting ice drains away from the fish, thus reducing the chances of spoilage.
Appearance is bright and shiny in quality fish, and most of the scales are intact and adhere tightly to the skin. Each species has characteristic markings and colors which fade and become less pronounced as the fish loses freshness. Eyes are bright, clear, full and often protrude. As quality goes down, the eyes often turn pink and become cloudy and sunken. This does not always apply to small-eyed fish such as salmon.
Gills are red and free from slime. With time, the color fades to light pink, then gray and finally greenish or dull brown. Odor is fresh and mild. A fish just out of the water has practically no "fish" odor. The fishy odor develops with time, but should not be strong or objectionable. Flesh is firm, elastic and not separating from the bones.
Fresh Fillets and Steaks: Odor is fresh and mild. Flesh is moist, firm, elastic and has a fresh-cut appearance without traces of browning or drying around the edges. Pre-packaged steaks and fillets are tightly wrapped with no liquid and little or no air in the packages.
Safe handling after purchase: Whether you’ve purchased fish that is fresh or frozen, always keep it cold. Never leave perishable items in a hot car unless packed in ice or in a cooler; seafood products must be kept cold to ensure peak quality. It’s always a good idea to keep your refrigerator temperature between 32 to 38 °F, and your freezer at 0 °F or colder.
Store fresh fish in its original wrapper in the coldest part of the refrigerator, which is under the freezer or in the "meat-keeper" drawer. Plan to use your fish purchases within one to two days. If not, freeze them. However, do not refreeze previously frozen products because the quality will suffer. For a more detailed summary of proper storage times for different fish products, refer to the table on page three.
It is best to freeze fish in tightly wrapped package form. This takes less storage space and fits a family portion for one meal at a time. Fish freeze faster in tightly wrapped packages. Small whole fish, steaks or fillets (raw or cooked) are easy to prepare for packaged freezing. Pre-wrap them tightly and individually (double thickness if possible) in cling wrap, forming a tight skin on the product. Master-bag these individually wrapped items in a good, strong polyethylene bag or foil before freezing, but never more than a pound per master bag.
Thawing: While freezing fish quickly keeps more cell walls intact, the opposite is true for thawing. Defrost gradually so cells are disturbed less and fewer juices leak out. The best way to thaw is overnight in the refrigerator. Avoid thawing at room temperature. If you must thaw fish quickly, here are safe options: seal fish in a plastic bag and immerse in cold water for about an hour, or microwave on the "defrost" setting, stopping when fish is still icy but pliable.
Marinating: Marinate fish in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard the marinade after use because it contains raw juices, which may harbor bacteria. If you want to use the marinade as a dip or sauce, reserve a portion before adding raw food.
For more information about cooking fist, visit the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center website at www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/.
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