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Tips on Buying Seafood

Eating seafood two or three times a week is a good practice. For the most part, seafood is a healthy food and provides those who eat it with a lot of essential nutrients. Also, most seafood is low in unhealthy fats but high in things like Omega-3 fats, which are good for you. Many kinds of seafood are also an excellent source of protein as well as a source for a variety of vitamins and minerals, like selenium, iron, and B-12.

But how do you know if you’re getting the best seafood available? And is that stuff marked “previously frozen” in your supermarket’s seafood case any good? How about buying fresh from a farmer’s market? Is there really an advantage?

Those are all reasonable questions and ones that often arise when purchasing seafood, especially with so many stories about contaminated fish, high levels of mercury, and other issues that have plagued the seafood market.

Fresh vs. Frozen

Often, when you ask a question about fresh foods vs. frozen varieties, the answer generally turns to fresh. However, this isn’t always the case when it comes to purchasing seafood. Experts agree that the best quality seafood is often that which is frozen. (We’re not talking fish sticks, but are referring to fish fillets, etc. that you purchase in your market’s seafood case.)

How and when the fish is frozen, however, will determine just how good it is. Those who know seafood point out that fish cannot improve in quality after it leaves the water but that quality can indeed be maintained. The best way to do that is to “flash freeze” the fish. That means the fish is frozen within just a few hours of harvest and often less time than that. Many fishing fleets are now able to clean and then flash freeze the fish within just minutes of catching it. This remarkable technology seals in the freshness so that when it arrives at your market, you know you’ll be getting a quality product. So, look for labels that say “flash frozen” or “frozen at sea” for the best results.

If you see a label that says “fresh”, it means the seafood has NEVER been frozen but rather kept at a chilled temperature until it reaches the retailer. If you’re purchasing fresh seafood from a farmer’s market or other establishment that deals directly with fishermen or fishing fleets, then the product will probably be fresh. However, in many cases, the so-called fresh fish often takes up to ten days to reach popular chain supermarkets, so it’s far from fresh!

Look, Smell, Touch!

Another way to determine whether seafood or fish is fresh is to use your senses. First of all, fish should NEVER smell fishy. Instead, it should smell like clean water. A fishy smell is an indication that the filet has gone or is going bad. You can smell this foul odor as soon as you open the package and chances are it will get stronger when you cook it. If it smells bad, throw it away, even if you waste a few bucks. Remember, bad seafood can make you sick.

Simply looking at the seafood can also help you determine its edibility. If it’s a whole fish you’re considering, look for clear, bright eyes not ones that have a cloudy look. Also, the color of the fish should be vibrant, not dull or patchy.

If you’re buying fillets, the color should be shiny and not flat. It you’re able to touch the fish, even through the plastic wrap, check to see if pressing it causes it to ooze water or a milky liquid. If so, don’t buy it. You can also test for freshness by pressing on the fish with your fingertip and making an indentation. If the fish is still edible, the indentation should spring back. If you can still see it when you remove your finger, you shouldn’t choose that particular fish.

It’s best to purchase fish caught in the U.S., Canada, Iceland, or New Zealand, the countries that have the strictest fishing regulations. Be sure to find out where the fish originated and avoid the stuff from Southeast Asia, which tends to be full of toxins.

Ask Questions

Some seafood counter clerks at the supermarket are very knowledgeable about the food they sell. Don’t be afraid to ask when they received a particular shipment and from where the fish came. If the fish monger can’t answer your questions or is evasive, go elsewhere for your seafood.