Buying and Enjoying NSW seafood
Buying NSW seafood is a great way to support the states economy. It helps maintain local employment and you have the benefit of purchasing a top quality, healthy and safe product that has not been transported great distances to reach your dinner plate.
How do I know if it is NSW seafood?
Many retailers label their product as local or NSW caught, however finding out if it is local is as simple as asking your retailer: Is it from NSW?
NSW was the first state in Australia to introduce specific seafood safety laws in 2001. Commercial fishers, aquaculture producers, seafood wholesalers, processors, transporters, retailers, restaurants, cafes and other outlets are all required to comply with strict seafood handling requirements. Legislation administered by the NSW Food Authority requires operators to be licensed and adhere to the Food Standards Code. Codes of practice, safety programs and bi-lingual guidelines have been developed to assist businesses and individuals comply with their legal requirements for seafood safety.
What does all this mean to the average seafood consumer?
It means the chance of purchasing substandard seafood that places your health at risk, through improper handling or storage, is extremely low. Particularly for NSW seafood which has these stringent food safety laws applying from the moment the catch leaves the water, right through to the point of sale.
The NSW Food Authority administers legislation compelling seafood retailers to display Country of Origin labels for each species. This allows consumers to distinguish local, from imported seafood. Food Authority legislation also provides offences and penalties for false or incorrect labelling of seafood species, such as labelling a low cost species as a high value species.
Sometimes the same species of seafood can have different marketing names. For example, bully mullet and sea mullet - same fish, different names. Keep an eye out for this symbol at your local fish monger or retailer. It indicates compliance with a national standard for fish names, meaning less confusion for seafood consumers.
Common indicators of well handled, good quality fresh seafood are bright, vibrant colours and a fresh smell. Fish should have clear shiny eyes (not cloudy) that don’t appear to have sunken into the body. Fillets should not exhibit any signs of drying or browning, particularly around the edges. Prawns, Rocklobsters and Crabs should also display strong colours and not be showing any signs of breaking apart at the joints. Unopened Oysters or Mussels should be tightly closed or close when touched.
It is not usually possible to handle seafood on display; however other indicators of freshness include bright red gills in whole fish and flesh that is firm to the touch. Finally, smell is a good indicator. If the seafood is starting to emit an unpleasant odour, it is unlikely to be fresh.
In terms of value, seafood is much like most other purchases; you get what you pay for. Top quality fish compares well with the best cuts of meat. This principle applies equally when comparing lesser cuts of meat and lower priced seafood. With the added health benefits of high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and protein - seafood should not be overlooked as an affordable, natural, nutritious and enjoyable meal.
Seafood is highly perishable. The key to maintaining freshness is keeping it well chilled. If you have other goods to buy when shopping for seafood, its a good idea to leave your seafood purchase until last. You should transport seafood home in an esky or cool bag, preferably containing freeze bricks or ice.
Fresh, cooked or uncooked, seafood should only be kept for one or two days in the coldest section of your fridge. If storing or transporting on ice, the seafood should be packed so melted ice can drain away (i.e. so the seafood does not end up sitting in a pool of melted ice).
When storing fish or crustaceans in your fridge, it is best to unwrap them from plastic bags and store using a non-plastic plate, tray or bowl; glass or pyrex is well suited. The container should be covered with a lid or plastic wrap to prevent drying out. You should also ensure the fish or crustaceans sit above any water that may collect in the bottom of the container.
Live mussels, oysters and pipis (closed shell) will die if refrigerated. They are best stored in a wet hessian bag, kept in a cool place. During mild weather, oysters, mussels and pipis can remain alive for up to a week. Live lobsters and crabs are best stored in tightly packed damp straw (to restrict movement) and kept cool. When they die they should be iced and cooked as soon as possible. Dead, unchilled crustaceans spoil quickly.
- NSW Food Authority - Food safety and labelling (www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au)
- Seafood Services Australia - Approved fish names (www.seafood.net.au)
- Sydney Fish Market - Health benefits, purchasing, storage, recipes and more (www.sydneyfishmarket.com.au)
- CSIRO - Buying, storing and preparing (www.csiro.au)