Guidelines for precooling of fresh fish during processing and choice of packaging with respect to temperature control in cold chains
The purpose of the guidelines is to assist in the choice between different methods of pre-cooling fresh fish products as well as to assist in the selection of packages with regard to the heat load that the product experiences on its way from producer to buyer. The following pre-cooling methods are discussed: liquid cooling, sludge cooling and skin cooling (CBC, touch and blow cooling). The treatment of products during processing and the effect of different refrigerants on temperature control, quality and shelf life of fillets before packaging the product are also discussed. The guidelines take into account the processing of lean whitefish, such as cod and haddock. The results of research show that a well-designed pre-cooling before packing can result in a shelf life of 3 - 5 days longer due to no pre-cooling before packing. Inadequate fluid exchange during hydraulic cooling with associated cross-contamination can, however, negate the positive effect of pre-cooling. Icelandic fresh fish producers mainly use expanded polystyrene (EPS) and corrugated plastic (CP) boxes for the export of fresh fillets and fillet pieces. Therefore, only the aforementioned packaging types are discussed here. The conclusion is that if the temperature control is inadequate and the temperature fluctuations are high, it is desirable to use foam plastic boxes that provide better thermal insulation than corrugated plastic boxes.
The aim of the guidelines is to provide and assist with choice of different precooling techniques for fresh fish fillets as well as assist with choice of packaging with respect to thermal abuse, which the product experiences during transport and storage from processor to customer. The following precooling techniques are discussed; liquid cooling (LC), slurry ice cooling (SIC) and combined blast and contact cooling (CBCC). In addition, the following is discussed; handling during processing and the effect of applying different cooling media before packaging on temperature control, quality and shelf life of fresh fillets. The guidelines are designed with lean white fish muscle in mind, such as cod and haddock. The results reveal that efficient precooling before packaging can prolong shelf life up to 3 to 5 days compared to no precooling before packaging. If the liquid exchange in the liquid cooler's circulation system is insufficient, cross-contamination can diminish the positive effects of precooling. Icelandic fresh fish processors mainly use expanded polystyrene (EPS) and corrugated plastic (CP) boxes for export of fresh fish fillets. The guidelines are therefore only focused on the above-mentioned packaging types. The conclusion is that if temperature control is unsatisfactory and temperature fluctuations are great, then expanded polystyrene boxes are the preferred alternative because they provide better insulation.