Supermarket Fish: Is It Really Fresh?

When consumers visit the supermarket to purchase fresh fish, they expect the fish to be, well, fresh. But is the fish sold in your supermarket really fresh? If you were to ask the associate behind the counter how old the fish is, what would they tell you? How old would you accept the fish to still be considered “fresh”?

The average person views fresh fish as a fish that was caught same day to at most a few days ago. It would be nice to believe supermarkets follow this practice, but do they?

Typically, you will see fish labelled as ” fresh”, “previously frozen”, or ” frozen”. Obviously frozen fish is frozen. Previously frozen fish is supposed to be fish that was frozen by the processor and then thawed by the retailer; though it could also account for fish that was first sold as frozen and later thawed to try and push sales of the fish. Fresh is supposed to be just that, fresh. However, most fish labelled as fresh have been found to be out of the water for 10-15 days, if not longer. Fresher fish makes up for a minority of the “fresh” fish sold in supermarkets. 

Likewise, it can be said that most fish (primarily imported from either out of state or other countries) that are labelled “fresh” is in fact previously frozen. Fish that is imported needs to be iced/frozen immediately upon catching and/or after processing in order to be shipped.

One of the biggest issues with how fresh supermarket fish isn’t, is that most fish is imported and supermarkets normally purchase inventory larger than what they expect to sell in between orders in order to keep shelves stocked. Supermarkets are more concerned with profits than they are freshness of the foods they sell. Due to this, supermarkets try hard to make everything look and smell fresh; usually with the help of chemicals. 

Small-sized supermarkets, such as your “mom and pop” shops or local chains may supply fish purchased from local fishermen or fish houses. But most of the nation-wide and international chains most likely utilize larger international fish suppliers. Because of this, the sad reality is that the “fresh” fish in the supermarkets may not be as fresh as you’d like it to be.

If you’re ok with fish that could be as old as 15 days (or older), then you won’t have a problem buying your fish from a supermarket. But keep in mind that the older the fish is, the more “smelly” or “fishy” it becomes and it begins to lose its natural taste. The reason fish is iced immediately upon catching and/or by the processor is to lock in the freshness. But just as with meats, fish should never be frozen -> defrosted -> re-frozen. Supermarket fish really needs to be cooked and consumed within 1-3 days, in most cases, of purchase. Whereas fish bought locally from a fish market or directly from a fishermen can last considerably longer if stored properly, not to mention it will also smell and taste better than the supermarket alternative.

If you’re looking for truly fresh fish, the absolute best way to go about it is to purchase your fish from a local fish market or directly from a local fishermen. Buying from a local fish market or local fishermen, you are guaranteed the fish you are purchasing is truly fresh and not treated with any chemicals. Local fish is primarily at most only up to 48hrs old, depending on if it’s whole or cleaned and the type of fish.

Whether you buy your fish from a supermarket or from a local fish market or fishermen, always ask questions. Be sure you’re getting the fish you’re asking for and that the fish is in fact fresh. And don’t be too surprised when you discover for yourself that you’re paying rediculous prices at the supermarket for fish that isn’t really fresh.

Further Info:

  1. Supermarkets Accused Of Selling Fresh Fish That’s 15 Days Old
  2. How Fresh Is Supermarket ‘Fresh Fish’?
  3. How your supermarket ‘fresh’ fish can be THREE weeks old: Seafood bought from the big four was only two days away from rotting
  4. How that ‘fresh’ fish can be TWO YEARS OLD: From salad to fruit and bread, TOM RAWSTORNE reveals how old the food in your supermarket basket really is
  5. When ‘Fresh’ Fish Is Really Frozen
  6.  Sea of Confusion Over ‘Fresh Fish’ Definition : Food: Congress may intervene with bills to protect the seafood buyer. (This is an old article, but is still relevant)
  7. Supermarket ‘Fresh’ Fish May Be Two Years Old, Newspaper Finds
  8. 19 Reasons Why You Might Want to Stop Buying Supermarket Meat
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