General Question

intrepidium's avatar

What is the preservative they routinely spray on fish displayed at the seafood counter?

Asked by intrepidium (1220points) July 25th, 2011

I was chatting with the fish guy at the big supermarket I frequent & was shocked when he told me that they routinely spray the displayed fish on ice with some kind of preservative to keep them looking fresh and bright. Frozen fish doesn’t get or need any such treatment though – thank goodness. And there I was, thinking that “fresh” truly meant fresh! I forgot to ask what the preservative was though – does anyone know?

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13 Answers

incendiary_dan's avatar

I believe I heard it was diluted ammonia. Ick.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
intrepidium's avatar

@incendiary_dan That’s what pee technically is right?

incendiary_dan's avatar

@intrepidium No, but ammonia compounds can form in pee that is fermented. Urine typically is made of nitrogen salts and such (which is why it makes good fertilizer when diluted).

@ANef_is_Enuf I hope it isn’t true, but I bet it is. That, or something worse. Supermarket meat isn’t known for naturalness (which reminds me, time to go help kill another goat).

intrepidium's avatar

Would be great if someone knows for sure; in the meantime, I can only hope thorough rinsing or cooking will remove most or all of the preservative. I’m choking now to think of all the sushi-grade fish and scallops I’d bought and eaten from there gag

crisw's avatar

Are you sure it isn’t just water and that the guy was puling your leg?

I can’t find any approved preservative sprays for fresh fish.

intrepidium's avatar

I hope I’ll remember to ask the next time I go to the store – I’ll be laying off the ‘fresh’ fish until I know for certain what the stuff is

RocketGuy's avatar

Sodium nitrate would help keep the pinkness. If so, it would be something that people like me need to worry about.

Buttonstc's avatar

Sodium Triphosphate (NOT to be confused with Trisodium Phosphate, a cleaner and degreaser typically used on walls and other surfaces prior to painting) is commonly used as a soaking solution to preserve scallops immediately after shucking so I’m guessing that’s what he was most likely referring to.

It basically helps to retain moisture for fish so it makes sense they would spray with that that to prevent the fish from drying out while sitting in the display case all day long.

The main problem with it’s routine use for scallops is that it makes it impossible to get a good sear when pan frying them. They exude so much moisture that you end basically steaming (or boiling) them.

To avoid that you need to find a fishmonger who sells what are called “dry scallops” or sometimes “diver scallops”. You can tell the difference simply by their appearance because they retain their natural coloring ( varying shades of yellowish, pinkish, brownish) rather than that uniform blinding whiteness of the soaked ones.

This is what all the TV chefs do to get that nicely browned exterior. But they are hugely more expensive than the soaked ones carried by most supermarkets.

But they are so worth it. Such a difference.

intrepidium's avatar

@Buttonstc Thanks for the info! I Googled it just now and found a few sites like here that details its safety etc. but they don’t mention what strength it is usually used at… which is worrying coz it can cause skin and eye irritation, much less our insides when ingested

Buttonstc's avatar

Oh, I forgot to mention that there are a few different methods to get rid of as much of the preservative as possible from fish in which this is found, usually scallops and shrimp.

You can soak them for about 30 mins. or so in milk or a diluted solution of lemon juice, salt and a touch of sugar (can’t remember the exact proportions but Alton Brown most likely lists it in some of his recipes.

Buttonstc's avatar

I’m pretty sure that it’s quite diluted because one of it’s primary advantages is that it caused the scallops or shrimp to absorb and retain extra water.

This of course adds to the products weight. This is similar to what they do with some treated hams (and even Turkeys) so you’re basically paying for an extra 10–20 % water. Ain’t science wonderful.

But unless you live in a coastal area with fishermen bringing in their fresh catch each day, it virtually impossible to buy shrimp any other way since it spoils so rapidly.

Even the shrimp sitting on display in the counter have basically been previously frozen and defrosted for sale.

Androsh's avatar

We spray the fish with water every 20 minutes to keep them moist, then cover with saran wrap. The cold air circulating in the case is what causes a fish to dry. Ammonia products are strictly forbidden in any food chain store. Not even allowed for cleaning display case windows..Tlapia comes from china and basa from vietnam thus they are frozen. Our fish is changed out every 2–3 days or when it gets tired looking, or dried from the cold air, much like when steak is hung in a cold room and ages and develops a darker look. does not mean it’s bad, but unattractive to the buyer.

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