Tips for buying seafood

Tips for buying seafood

After selling seafood around the world with United Cold Storage for 35 years, I do have some good tips for buying seafood.

Seafood is generally sold in 2 kinds. One is fresh and the other is processed. Today, processed fish is easy to buy. They all come from tightly quality controlled plants. Major seafood processing countries are USA, Japan, China, India, Vietnam and Thailand. USA and Japan are also world major seafood importers. Thailand has for decade been the largest seafood exporters of many kinds to USA.

USFDA has a very stringent production regulation for seafood. All seafood plants both local and overseas must have gone through a strict food processing procedure of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point -HACCP. It is generally true that you will always pick up a pack of good quality processed seafood in the market.

For fresh seafood, there are some rules we have to follow to ensure that we will have good fresh fish. USFDA applies the technique they used to call organoleptic test. They changed the term to sensory test today. They are both the same of using our organs of eyes, ears, nose, tongue and hand or senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching to ascertain the freshness of seafood.

Seafood is divided into four major categories of Fish, Crustaceans, Cephalopods and Shell.


For a whole fish, look into the eyes and gills. Eyes should be bright and shiny. Dull eyes indicate deterioration. Gill should be bloody red. Pale indicates deterioration. Some unscrupulous fish mongers may use harmful preservative like sodium-benzoates to keep the fish fresh. Some may even use formaldehyde. Fish may look fresh but meat could be rotten. If you have doubt, press the fish with one of your finger, the meat should bounce back like a good firm sponge. Fish that gives a dent with a press, though it may looks fresh, indicates the use of chemicals. Do not buy.

For fish fillets, the sensory test is still appropriate. A glance at the fish should give you a pleasant natural look. The bright and shiny fillets should be suspicious of having used Sodium-phosphate or brine. This may not be harmful but you will probably lose about 10-20 % fish weight after cooking.


This group of seafood includes all types of shell fish like shrimp, lobster, and crab. Deterioration will start from the head part and spread slowly to the body. The shell will turns black in ring shape at the beginning until the whole body. This is known as an oxidation chain reaction.

As for crab, always buy a live crab. Once a crab is dead, it must be kept frozen immediately. But the freshness will be 50 % off when it thaws again.


This includes squid, octopus, and cuttlefish. These products are normally sold in a semi-processed condition packed from FDA approved plants. They are quite safe to buy. The only precaution is you have to really look for the super quality grade fish if you want to have them raw.

Shell fish

The shell fish we consume is mostly bi-valves like oyster, clam, mussels and scallop. Again, buy them live. Once it is dead, consume immediately or keep frozen. Give 50 discount of freshness when you thaw them again.

Last, all fish should smell fishy naturally. Pinch a tiny bit of the meat to rub in your hands and smell. The heat created by rubbing will give a pungent odor from bad fish. FDA rejects tons and tons of fish every year just by rubbing and smelling this way.