As the Easter holiday draws closer, many Barbadians will be heading to the markets across the island to purchase their choice of fish. When properly prepared, fish can be a tasty, nutritious meal. However, care must be taken and good hygiene practised at all times when handling or coming into contact with seafood.
This advice has come from Government’s Deputy Chief Fisheries Officer, Joyce Leslie, who stressed that all persons who come into contact with fish, ranging from the fisherman to the consumer, should be considered a fish handler and, therefore, must adhere to the strictest safety guidelines.
Speaking to the Barbados Government Information Service, she pointed out that fish is perishable, thus, it deteriorates very quickly, particularly in a warm climate such as Barbados.
Ms. Leslie, therefore, stressed that every precaution must be made to ensure that the product is safe for consumption, which includes processing fish in a sanitary environment, with clean hands and equipment, and keeping it chilled on ice.
Accordingly, fishermen making a catch at sea should be dressed in clean waterproof boots, overalls or aprons; while the deck should be cleaned and washed down to prepare for fish catches.
"[In terms] of those vessels that take ice to sea, [persons are advised that] flying fish should be washed in clean seawater, and packed between layers of ice in the fish hold. Big fish, dolphin, kingfish, tuna etc. [should be] gutted, washed and similarly stored.
"For the vessel that does not take ice and lands the fish at the end of each day, we expect that it will be stored in a clean compartment on board the vessel and
kept away from the direct rays of the sun and protected from contamination by fuel.
It can be cooled continuously by pouring seawater on it … Big fish, such as shark and tuna, should be gutted at sea as this helps to slow down the deterioration process," Ms Leslie said.
The fisheries official explained that to extend the shelf life of fish and to store it properly or freeze it, it was imperative that ice was used to reduce the temperature to one to two degrees centigrade.
She emphasised that the skin of freshly caught fish was bright and shiny, with the species characteristic colour. The eyes are slightly bulging, flesh firm when touched; smells fresh (no fishy odours), that is, a seaweed type scent; the slime on the body is clear or water-coloured; and the gills are bright red.
In contrast, as fish quality deteriorates, the skin becomes dull and bleached, the eyes sink, the gills look bleached and turn a brownish colour, the odour will change and the slime becomes thick, opaque, yellowish or gray.
Vendors and processors on shore must also store fish between layers of clean ice, and Ms. Leslie maintained that fish handlers in markets should also observe good hygiene.
"They should ensure their clothing is clean, wear waterproof protective clothing, ensure their hands are free of jewellery, wear no earrings, [and their] hair must be covered.??
Cuts must be covered with water-proof dressing.?? We expect that they would clean and sanitise all the containers and equipment to prepare for processing fish.?? Cutting boards and knives should be continually rinsed during the day," she pointed out.
The fisheries official reiterated that to maintain the freshness of the product low temperature storage must be observed at all times.
"We know that during the processing of flying fish several hours are spent scaling, gutting and de-boning.?? The fish should be kept on ice at each step, and as soon as it is filleted, it should be placed between layers of ice or packaged and iced," the Deputy Chief Fisheries Officer said.?? "Big fish should also be kept totally covered in ice until sold and should be held ideally no more than two days."
For consumers, after purchasing chilled fish, it should be frozen within a half of an hour. ??If there is to be a longer delay, when collected from the market, it should be placed in an insulated container with ice.
In the home, fish should be placed in small packages; for example, one pound to allow for quick freezing. Fish should be thawed in the chill compartment of the refrigerator and not left soaking in water at room temperature.
So, as Barbadians begin to make their culinary preparations for the Easter holiday, they are being reminded to incorporate good handling practices and take the necessary precautions, particularly when dealing with any type of seafood.