Fish downed or frozen?

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The Cannavacciuolo case has given rise to various doubts among our readers. We have already clarified the basic issue, about hygiene rules in restaurants. Let us now delve into the concept of slaughtered fish or frozen fish, as appropriate.

Fish culling, when it is necessary (and mandatory)

Fresh fish-regardless of its goodness and authenticity-is vulnerable to attack by parasites, the most common of which is Anisakis. These can pose a health risk to consumers if fish is consumed raw, marinated, or partially cooked. Conversely, both cooking and freezing can kill parasites and thus ensure the safety of seafood products with respect to this risk.

The European legislature, in order to better protect the health of consumers, has required food business operators to heat slaughter all fishery products intended to be consumed raw, or not fully cooked. (1)

The Ministry of Health, in turn, has prescribed that retail operators offer appropriate information – by means of a special sign, to be displayed on the sales premises – on the proper use of fishery products in case of domestic preparation. (2)

Fish downed? Role of the restaurateur

Fresh fish and cephalopods (e.g., cuttlefish, squid, octopus, squid) must also be systematically slaughtered by caterers or other public establishments, in the only case where they are served raw or marinated or partially cooked.

Procedures for checking the suitability of the above fish products and for their slaughter are described in special guidelines, also developed by the public veterinary services. (3) Based on the Ministry of Health’s guidance in Note 4379 dated 17.2.11, where special requirements of:

– Notification of the activity to the relevant health authorities,

– Recording of products, quantities and date of each culling operation,

– Suitability of equipment and self-inspection. (4)

Information to the consumer/adventurer in such cases may be provided–by means of a note called out with an asterisk on the individual dishes in question, on the restaurant menu.

For example, ‘Product subjected to prior reclamation treatment by freezing in accordance with the requirements of reg. EC 853/2004, Annex III, Section VIII, Chapter 3(D)(1)‘.

Or, ‘The purchased fresh product underwent preventive reclamation treatment by freezing in accordance with the requirements of reg. EC 853/2004, Annex III, Section VIII, Chapter 3(D)(1)‘. (5)

Frozen fish? Responsibility of the restaurateur

Some hypotheses are configured in which the fish product cannot be considered as ‘slaughtered’ but rather ‘frozen’:

– When the catch is not intended for raw or marinated consumption. (6) There is no reason, for example, to ‘cull’ anchovies or squid intended for frying. If the raw material comes from freezer, it should be stated on the menu that it is frozen fish,

– when the fish was ‘culled’ at an earlier time than the hours required to fulfill the technological function of culling. If the fish has been placed in the freezer a week in advance, or even earlier, than the date of its service, it is clearly not fresh fish that has been slaughtered but fish that has been frozen with a view to its later use as needed. (7) Nothing wrong with that, but the consumer must be informed,

– When the fish was not purchased in its fresh state. Perhaps the most common scenario is precisely that of restaurateurs buying ‘slabs’ of ‘downed fish’. But in that case it is instead, in all evidence, frozen product. (8)

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) See reg. EC 853/2004, so-called Hygiene Regulation 2, Annex III, section VIII, chapter 3, point D, item 1

(2) Cf. Ministerial Decree 17.7.2013, implementing Law 189/2012

(3) V. http://www9.ulss.tv.it/Minisiti/prevenzione/sical/contenuti/00/content_files/file2/procedura%20abb.%20ristorazione.%20ristorazione.%20ristorazione.%20ristorazione.%20ristorazione.pdf

(4) See DGSAN Note 4379, 17.2.17, attached.

(5) Nothing prohibits the use of a simpler phrase, as long as it is suitable to represent the concept that the product has undergone heat abatement to ensure its safety for raw consumption, as required by current legislation

(6) That is, when dealing with miscellaneous foods (e.g., mushrooms, truffles, meat), in relation to which there is no ‘culling’ requirement. Even in these cases, the products are simply frozen and the consumer must be informed about it. All the more so since the value-actual and perceived-of frozen food is different than that of fresh

7) That is to say, thermal killing does not have a reclamation function of the fish product with respect to the risk of pest contamination, but rather the different function of food preservation

(8) The caterer may also purchase already processed fishery products with a view to their immediate use for raw or practically raw consumption. Even then, appropriate documentation must be kept to prove that freezing was limited to the short period necessary to eliminate the risk associated with possible parasites. Where the use of the product is not immediate, it should be presented to the consumer as frozen

Allegato Nota_DGSAN_4379_Feb_2011

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.