Quality control is essential in fish processing because it helps ensure that the fish products are safe for human consumption, meet regulatory requirements, and have a long shelf life.
“Quality control (QC) in some form is now common in the fish industry and its use is increasing steadily as demand for uniformly high-quality products increases. Since fish is more variable than most other food, the need to apply QC is correspondingly greater,” says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. “As customers and governments become more particular about their food requirements, the fish industry must keep pace with these requirements if it is not to lose out in competition to other foods.”
The fish processing industry involves the handling, packaging, and distribution of fish products such as fish fillets, canned fish, and fish oil. Fish processing is a critical industry that provides valuable sources of protein, employment, and income for communities worldwide.
“Fishery products are generally safe when handled properly from boat or farm to plate, but they are also highly perishable,” writes Michael L. Jahncke in “Seafood Processing and Safety” published in Foods. “Many procedures used to ensure food safety can also contribute to higher quality fishery products and longer shelf-life of these products.”
Importance of Quality Control in Fish Processing
Fish is a perishable food product, and any deviations from good hygiene practices during processing, handling, and storage can lead to spoilage, bacterial growth, and contamination, which can pose health hazards to consumers.
Quality control also helps to maintain the sensory properties of the fish products, such as texture, color, taste, and odor, which are crucial for customer satisfaction and market acceptance.
The FAO describes QC simply as “maintenance of quality at a level that satisfies the customer and that is economical to the producer or seller.”
Brands should be especially cognizant of QC.
“Customer complaints mainly arise because quality has fallen; therefore the objective of QC is realized by keeping quality of output at the right level. Loss of profitability can also occur when fish products do not comply with local or national regulations; QC can give protection here also,” says the FAO. “Maintenance of quality is particularly important for branded products, because a brand name becomes associated with a particular quality level, and any lowering of the level causes the customer to lose confidence in the brand; sales of other goods under the same brand may then also be reduced.”
QC can also keep consumers safe as bacteria that can cause foodborne illness such as Vibrio, Salmonella, Shigella, and Listeria can be found in seafood.
“Bacteria that can cause illness are the main concern with regard to seafood safety. When seafood is properly handled and cooked, the risks are minimal. Poor handling practices, such as raw foods coming in contact with cooked foods (cross-contamination) and lack of proper temperature control can also lead to food borne illness,” says the Seafood Health Facts from Sea Grant and NOAA.
Defining Quality Control in Fish Processing
Quality control in fish processing can be difficult to define as QC can mean different things to different people.
“Quality is difficult to define since it means different things to different people. One general definition is 'degree of excellence'. In commerce, quality limits are set by what the customer is prepared to pay for; generally the customer will pay more for fish that he considers to be of higher quality, and will continue to buy as long as quality remains constant,” says the FAO.
Some important factors that determine quality from the customer's point of view include:
- Ease or preparation
- Presence or absence of bones
- Blood and filth
- Absence of specific microorganisms
QC from the fish processing side of the equation depends on the product as the industry handles everything from unfrozen fillets to canned fish to fish meal to smoked fatty fish to frozen fish.
The processing factors that most affect QC in fish processing include:
- Damage or deterioration
- Hygiene and sanitation
- Equipment and methods
- Packing for product appeal
- Correctness of fill
Follow These Best Practices for Fishing Processing QC
Here are some best practices for ensuring quality control in fish processing:
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs): These are basic hygiene and sanitation principles that should be followed at all stages of fish processing. GMPs include regular cleaning and disinfection of processing equipment and facilities, proper storage of raw materials and finished products, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by workers.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP): HACCP is a systematic approach to identifying and controlling potential hazards in fish processing. It involves conducting a hazard analysis, identifying critical control points, establishing critical limits, and monitoring and verifying the process to ensure that the hazards are under control. (See the FDA’s 8-page “Conducting a Hazardous Analysis and Developing a HACCP Plan for guidance.)
Traceability: Traceability is the ability to track the movement of fish products from the source to the final destination. It is essential for product recall in case of contamination or quality issues. (See this 86-page “A Guide to Traceability Within the Fish Industry” from Eurofish).
Temperature control: Fish is a highly perishable product, and temperature control is critical to maintaining its quality and safety. All processing stages, from harvesting to storage and distribution, should be monitored and controlled to prevent bacterial growth and spoilage.
Training and education: All workers involved in fish processing should receive regular training on food safety, hygiene, and quality control practices. This helps to ensure that all workers are aware of the potential hazards and are equipped with the necessary skills to prevent contamination and maintain product quality.
NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program provides inspection services to the seafood industry for fish, shellfish, and fisher products to ensure the safety and quality of the products.
The program offers a variety of professional inspection services on a voluntary, fee-for-service basis, which ensures compliance with all applicable food regulations.
All edible product forms ranging from whole fish to formulated products, as well as fish meal products used for animal foods, are eligible for inspection and certification. U.S. participants in the program may use official marks on their products indicating they have been federally inspected.