Shelf life and freshness

Shelf life
is defined as the time period a food product is fit for human consumption. With whole, gutted fish it represents the time from catch until it becomes unfit for human consumption. Shelf life of fillets or other fish products can also been defined as shelf life from processing or packaging.

The flavour and odour compounds that characterise newly caught fish decrease and disappear in the first few days during storage in ice, and the fish flesh becomes almost flavourless and odourless for a while.  The time period from catch/slaughter until the fish has lost the freshness characteristics (such as sweet flavour) has been defined as the freshness period, for further information see here.

The number of bacteria increases rapidly in the flesh, using various compounds to grow, resulting in increasingly bad-smelling sulphur and nitrogenous volatiles until most people evaluate the fish unfit for human consumption.  Spoilage due to microbial activity is the main limitation of the shelf life, especially for lean fishAnother cause of spoilage may be rancidity, readily detected in air-stored fat fish species.

The terms shelf life and freshness period should be used with some precaution due to the uncertainty in the estimation.  Various factors can affect the shelf life and the freshness period, such as  the fish species and  handling of the fish.  Rapid cooling after the catch and an uninterrupted cold storage, different fishing gear, bleeding and  gutting methods are important and the season and catching ground can also have an effect.


Photo: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson


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