Vacuum packaged fish like to be cool

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

Most people wouldn't consider storing fresh fish in the kitchen cabinet next to the canned beans and breakfast cereal. Fresh fish, including smoked fish, sealed in vacuum packages do not belong in kitchen cabinets either.

Vacuum packaging can fool people into thinking that fish in these packs is preserved. It isn't. Vacuum packaged fish can become even more dangerous to eat than those not sealed in vacuum packages if the fish is not kept cold.

Vacuum packaging does not preserve fish. It may extend the storage time by removing most of the oxygen. Without oxygen chemical reactions that cause bad flavors and odors are slowed down.

Vacuum packaging is one of the best wraps for keeping frozen fish at their peak quality, BUT, vacuum packaged fish must be kept cold to be safe to eat. Vacuum sealers are not a substitute for the heat processing of home canned foods.

Home canning processing times are determined by research studies for each food to assure that all bacteria that can grow in the low-oxygen environment are killed by heat. Perishable food, which is vacuum-sealed by a vacuum packaging machine has not received the heat treatment necessary to kill all bacteria that causes spoilage or illness.

Some bacteria that grow best without oxygen can cause spoilage of foods. A few bacteria that can grow in a low-oxygen, low-acid environment, such as fish, can cause serious illness or death in humans. One of these, Clostridium botulinum, produces a toxin that can kill people.

These are the same bacteria that must be killed by the high heat of a pressure canner when canning fish. Room temperature, vacuum packaged fish provides the ideal conditions for Clostridium botulinum to grow.

Home vacuum packages are sometimes confused with retort pouches. Retort pouches are commercial containers designed to withstand heat. Food packaged in retort pouches is processed commercially by heat similar to canned food.

Food in retort pouches may be stored unopened at room temperature. Once the pouch is opened, the food must be refrigerated or frozen. Usually you can recognize a retort pouch by its gold or silver color.

For more information on safely preserving food contact Cooperative Extension Service.

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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