'Fresh' fish can be more than ten days old

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fish on ice

A newspaper investigation has revealed that fish sold as fresh in supermarkets can be more than ten days old. Researchers from Seafish tested 12 fish from Tesco, Asda Morrisons and Sainsbury's to see how fresh they were, and discovered that a third had been caught ten or more days earlier.

So can this be right?

The research

The ideal minimum standard of freshness in the industry is for the fish to be less than ten days old. The Daily Mail said that the four fish that were over ten days old provided an "unpleasant eating experience." Of the rest of the sample, six were hovering around the ten day mark, and only three were found to be fresher than 10 days.

The expert tests called it a 'snapshot' of a small sample. Tesco told the newspaper it wasn't a fair comparison because fish from the fishmonger was being compared with pre-packed fresh fish. Presumably the process of packing the fish and distributing it will automatically introduce a delay between catching and selling the fish that the independent fishmonger will not face.

Morrisons said it was disappointed with the results as it prides itself on the qualify of the fresh fish. It said that because it owns its own processing plant it can get a fish from the sea to the shelves in 24 hours.

Check for freshness

All the fish tested were safe to eat, and fell within the Food Standards Agency guidelines, so there is nothing wrong with fish from the supermarket. But how can you tell if your fish is fresh?

There's a lot you can tell from how it looks and smells. Look for bright, clear eyes - because they get duller as fish pass their prime. The scales should also shine: if it is dull or discoloured it may be past its best. If you can, you should also smell it: if it smells of anything other than clean water, salt water or cucumbers, it will be a bit older.

It's also worth checking the label to see whether it has been 'previously frozen'. If it has, there's nothing wrong with this approach, it just means you're buying the same fish that's available from the freezer compartment, which is likely to be cheaper.

Frozen fish is not always the poor relation. It's worth trying frozen fish, which is often great quality and is now often frozen on the fishing boat, so the longest it has been out of the water and out of the freezer is when it's defrosting in your kitchen.

Elderly

And before we get too upset about the age of our fresh fish, its worth remembering that a focus on the freshness of produce is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that in many cases food takes days, weeks or even months to get to the supermarket shelves - without posing any danger to consumers.

Meat can be weeks old: beef is best if it is hung and allowed to mature, but even Lamb will be shipped from New Zealand in cold containers, so the New Zealand lamb on the shelves will be six weeks old.

Some vegetables, meanwhile, are months old. Baking potatoes can be six months old, and apples can be just as old if they have been shipped in refrigerated containers.

Of course, age is critical for things like eggs and bread, which have a short shelf life. However, even these can spend up to ten days from production to being sold without it causing any issues.

But what do you think? Are we too obsessed with how fresh our food is? Or should supermarkets be working harder?

Beware the small print

Beware the small print