As Barbados prepares to celebrate Fishermen’s Week from Sunday, June 26 to Saturday, July 2, and Fisherman’s Day on Wednesday, June 29, Barbadians are being reminded to practice proper hygiene when handling fish.
This advice has come from Deputy Chief Fisheries Officer at the Fisheries Division, Joyce Leslie, who pointed out that all persons who come into contact with the delicacy, 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 stressed that fish should be processed in a sanitary environment, with clean hands and kept chilled.
Ms. Leslie explained that for longer shelf life it was imperative that ice is used or that the fish be frozen as soon as possible at a temperature of at least one to two degrees centigrade.
According to her, when making a catch at sea, fishermen should be dressed in waterproof boots with a clean apron and the deck washed down to prepare for the fish.
"We expect [for] those vessels that take ice to sea, the fish would be washed in clean seawater and packed between layers of ice in the hold. For the vessel that does not take ice and lands the fish at the end of the day, we expect that it will be stored in a clean compartment on board the vessel and kept away for the direct rays of the sun.
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," the Fisheries official said.
Ms. Leslie explained that with freshly caught fish, the skin is bright and shiny, eyes slightly bulging, is firm when touched, smells fresh, that is, a seaweed type smell and the residue (slime) on the body is clear and water-coloured.
She added that as it starts to decay, 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 turns a thick opaque yellow or gray.
Upon arrival at shore, fish should be stored 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 the proper protective clothing, ensure their hands are free of jewellery and earrings. We expect that they would clean and sanitise all the containers, the cutting boards and knives – all of the equipment that they use to prepare and handle the fish," she emphasised.
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, they will take a couple of hours to scale and gut the fish but it should be held on ice until the next step which is the boning process and as soon as it is boned, it should be packaged and placed between layers of ice," she explained.
For consumers, when purchasing fish it should be frozen within a half of an hour, if not, it should be placed in an insulated container with ice.
In the home, fish should be placed in small packages, as this allows freezing to take place more rapidly, and placed in the refrigerator or deep freeze immediately.
Ms. Leslie stressed that fish is perishable, thus, it deteriorates very quickly, particularly in a warm climate such as Barbados. Therefore, she said every precaution must be made to ensure that the product is safe for consumption.
So, as Barbados prepares to observe Fishermen’s Week, the public is being encouraged to practice good hygiene when handling fish, a local delicacy and staple of our national culture and cuisine.