Commercial smoked fish need to be properly stored

Proper time and temperature control and water phase salt are methods to keep smoked fish safe.

After the commercial processor has properly smoked fish, proper storage procedures are needed to mitigate the risk of foodborne illness. Typically, refrigeration or freezing are used to keep smoked fish safe but, when air packaging is used, water activity becomes important and tests for water phase salt is needed.

The key temperature for smoked fish is 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Immediately after the smoking or other thermal process, the fish should be cooled to 38 F or less. The smoked fish must remain at 38 F throughout the distribution system, including transportation, warehousing and retail display cases. If the smoked fish is frozen, it must remain frozen throughout the distribution system. A responsible party must take accurate temperature readings throughout the distribution system and record temperatures.

Water phase salt is the amount of salt in a piece of smoked fish compared to the amount of water. Salt is both a chemical preservative and also binds water, which inhibits microbial growth. Samples used for testing must come from the loin of the fish. Michigan regulation requires that the water phase salt be greater than 3.0 when using an official test. Third party testing costs approximately $50 per sample. Instruments to test for water phase salt are available through commercial channels. Testing must be done regularly and with adequate frequency to satisfy the regulator. The processor may be required to complete additional testing, should the regulator request.

Michigan State University Extension educators and Innovation Counselors at the Michigan State University Product Center assist food processors in the establishment of good practices and in producing safe food products. For further information and assistance with employee communications, please contact your local MSU Extension office.

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