By Carolyn Twesten, Weaver Street Market Seafood Merchandiser
You may have noticed that over the years our seafood selection has started to lean more towards frozen options (in addition to our NC-caught options from Locals Seafood!). After much research and discussion, we concluded that frozen seafood is a better option than the thawed and tray-packed seafood we once carried. And why is that? Let me give you a few reasons:
Once upon a time commercial freezing was done through a slow process, not unlike freezing food in your home refrigerator (read: freezer burn). The slower the freezing process, the more large ice crystals will form in and on the food, lessening the end quality of the product.
Over the last ten to twenty years however, rapid freezing technology has greatly improved. This allows food products to be frozen within a matter of minutes, reducing the amount of ice crystal formation and preserving the “just caught” or “just picked” nature of the food. This process is called individual quick freezing, or IQF.
Seasonal Seafood, Year Round
Quick freezing equipment is now so readily available that many commercial fishing vessels have IQF “tunnels” located right there on the boat. This allows fish to be caught, portioned, and frozen within hours of being caught. The preservation through IQF allows the seafood to maintain its peak quality all the way to the point of thawing.
It also allows us to have a year-round supply. For example, we purchase the highest quality wild-caught salmon direct from Alaska. Rather than shipping fresh salmon across the country only while in season, we can have salmon that was frozen just after being caught, year round.
Preserving Our Local Catch
Just like local fruits and vegetables, North Carolina seafood has a season where each species is at its peak. Buying massive amounts of local IQF shrimp at the peak of their season, for example, has helped us to support more local fishermen by purchasing and storing a large portion of the season’s catch for sale throughout the year. Without the ability to preserve the catch, the fishermen wouldn’t have a market for all of it; they’d have more waste from spoilage and therefore lost income.
Food Safety and Waste Reduction
Fresh seafood is great, but has a very short shelf life. Preserving seafood at extreme low temperatures inhibits bacterial growth and extends shelf life. In a country where food waste is such a big issue, the ability to store food safely and consume it at a time most convenient to you is a huge advantage.
The Price Is Right
One more great reason to purchase frozen seafood is the price. Frozen seafood’s price is usually more competitive than that of fresh seafood.
Fresh seafood is generally “market priced”, meaning that when supplies are low, prices are high, and vice-versa. Partnering with fishermen to purchase large volumes of fish when the market is low benefits both the buyer and the seller. For a retailer, buying at the peak of season when the supplies are at their best means the market price is usually at its lowest. For the fisherman, having a single buyer of a large volume of his or her catch eliminates the need for marketing to many smaller customers, saving time and money.
Freezing the catch means preserving not only the fish but the cost savings, which can then be passed on to the customer.