There’s a strong case for saying that of all food formats, frozen ranks among the most relevant for today’s increasingly demanding and busy society. Most consumers are already seeking value in their purchases, particularly when it comes to food. They also want year-round access to their favourite products, seasonal or not, without any detriment to its quality.
And an increasing core requirement is that the supply chains responsible for safely delivering those items must address any negative environmental or social impacts and be transparent in those actions.
While there are many elements for food supply chains to address, the frozen food category ticks several boxes. Crucially, the false notion that “fresh is best” has also long been dispelled, with considerable evidence supporting the opposite perception whereby, when frozen properly, food can be as fresh as when it was first harvested or, in the case of a lot of seafood products, – as fresh as the moment they were caught.
FRESHER THAN FRESH
Essentially, freezing can be likened to pressing pause on the deterioration of foods, with prompt processes locking in and preserving flavour, texture and key nutrients for end-consumers. Conversely, a lot of fresh foodstuffs have the opportunity to lose nutritional and flavour quality during often long transportation and storage before they finally arrive at the point of sale.
Seafood products tend to freeze very well. And from a consumer standpoint, frozen fish products are extremely convenient. Very little effort is usually required regarding their preparation, and having such items stocked offers a ready-to-hand healthy food solution for the time-crunched. The category also offers an easy means to incorporate the recommended two portions of fish or seafood per week in the human diet. Furthermore, buying frozen is often cheaper than buying the equivalent fresh product, and also reduces the likelihood of throwing food away.
Overall, it is estimated that at a household level, frozen food results in more than 40% less waste than non-frozen food. It’s also responsible for equal or better levels of savings in commercial circles.
Professionally, very few kitchens can operate without frozen food. It tends to be more convenient and cost-effective than fresh produce – chefs simply take what they need and leave the rest in the freezer. In the case of seafood, which is by its nature a highly perishable food category, frozen offers a far superior shelf-life than fresh fish and also gives the flexibility of “menuing” products that are out of season.
Equally important is that it offers consistency of quality, flexibility, portion sizing and nutrient control. And in terms of consumer experience, freezing such products soon after they are removed from the water ensures locked-in freshness and goodness, such as healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
As a seafood supplier with a long history of providing frozen products and a portfolio to match, Pittman Seafoods knows that the key to freezing starts with the sourcing of prime-quality raw materials during peak season and then freezing them as quickly as possible. Because all kinds of seafood are at their absolute best immediately after being caught or harvested, freezing those products as close as possible to the place that they are removed from is the best method of preserving them. And if executed properly, freezing fish can give a storage life of more than one year.
Freezing is therefore widely practised both onshore and onboard many fishing vessels. For the latter, it enables catching fleets to remain at sea for longer periods and allows products to be stockpiled during periods of high catch rates, as well as widening the market by providing access to a broader range of high-quality fish products.
The two most commonly used frozen formats used by the seafood industry are single and double frozen. Single-frozen fish are virtually indistinguishable from fish eaten the day that they were caught. This is because the products are often harvested at peak season, quick-chilled, carefully processed and then rapidly frozen – all within a few hours of leaving the water and using state-of-the-art technology. As a result, they retain their freshness until the point of being consumed.
Double-frozen products tend to come from longer fishing trips, where whole fish are frozen very quickly after capture and then stored in freezing chambers for the duration of the voyage. On reaching the processing plant, they are thawed or partly thawed, processed and then re-frozen ready for market. Only fish that were initially very fresh are double-frozen.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
The benefits of frozen fish also extend beyond sensible solutions for shrewd consumers and savvy chefs. Today, most of us are aware of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimation that as much as one-third of all the food produced globally, or around US$940 billion worth of edible products, is lost or wasted.
With one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by 193 nations committing to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030″ (FAO), there’s an increasing number of leading players across the grocery and foodservice sectors looking at ways in which they can tackle these losses. Freezing technology and solutions are sure to play an increasingly central role in those actions.
At the same time, with consumer tastes constantly shifting, innovation and new product development will continue to ensure that there is just as much variety and relevance to satisfy demand in the frozen seafood channel as there is in fresh fish.