Temperature Monitoring to ensure the quality of seafood during distribution

This year saw food safety as the main theme for the World Health Day. Recent research done by the WHO confirmed that unsafe seafood containing viruses, harmful bacteria, chemical substances and parasites may be the cause of 200 diseases ranging from diarrhoea and cancer.  Each year contaminated seafood kills an estimated 2 million people including children worldwide.  It is a common misconception that unsafe food is a third world problem, however, the Centre for Disease Control has reported that there were an estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the United States alone during 2011 of which 3000 cases resulted in deaths.

Seafood and seafood products are especially prone to perishability and contamination. From the time of catch fish start spoiling and this process continues throughout its shelf-life. Bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, Vibrio and Shigella play a big part in fish spoilage with a serious pathogenic hazard.  Typically other bacteria are introduced to fish and fish products through contact with contaminated knives, boxes and equipment. If the cold chain during distribution of seafood is not maintained with fish such as Mackerel, Tuna and Mahi-Mahi produce biogenic amines such as Histamine which cannot be removed by cooking. The result of this form of poisoning is Histamine poisoning which may be life-threatening.

Research has shown that careful handling, maintenance of the cold chain, and temperature monitoring during distribution of seafood play an important part in reducing the likelihood of seafood spoilage. In the seafood industry, the “cold chain” refers to the proper management of storage temperature from the time of catch up to the time of placing the final product on shelves. From regulatory, quality and safety aspect this means that seafood must be stored at 0°C at catch and –18°C or colder before distribution. The temperature recommendations apply from the sea to the consumer. Temperature monitoring of seafood is critical if the storage temperature exceeds 1°C at any stage of its distribution, the cold chain has been broken. For example, storing fish at 16°C will result in spoilage after only 1 day, at 5°C spoilage occurs in 3 days and at 0°C spoilage occurs at 10 days. It is clear from this simple example that adequate temperature monitoring is essential to ensuring a good quality of seafood during distribution.

The seafood cold chain is very complex with several interacting parts, consider the following:

  • Fish caught at sea must be stored on ice.
  • On land, fish are placed in cold storage before processing. Typically freezing is achieved through cold air blasting, plate freezing, quick freezing etc.
  • Refrigerate transport.
  • Regional, intermediate cold store at airport or port.
  • Retail outlets, refrigerators or frozen fish display cabinets etc.
  • Consumer’s refrigerator.

At each of these stages temperature monitoring equipment play a vital role. The only effective method for producing storage temperature histories is by the application of temperature monitoring equipment. However, in reality, few suppliers use any of these devices, especially the fisherman.

With the global economy, the cold chain can easily span several continents. As mentioned before the recommended temperature range for seafood storage is 1-2°C, which is a very narrow temperature range. Maintaining this narrow range is important in ensuring the safety and quality of seafood and seafood products. It has been shown that the cold chain is most often broken at supermarket stocking, on fishing boats, and during transportation. Temperature Monitor Solutions Africa, temperature monitoring equipment is well suited to ensure that the cold chain is managed properly. With the ability to monitor information in real-time suppliers and distributor can easily manage immediate and long-term risk mitigation.