January 10, 2019

A Leap Forward for Seafood Quality

Bylgja Pálsdóttir and Magni Veturliðason explain how the latest sub-chilling technology further enhances the environmental leadership of high-quality fresh fish

Collectively, society is on a journey to find ways to limit its impact on the planet while ensuring that all of our critical needs are met. It’s widely accepted that the most pressing problems and biggest opportunities in this respect are related to food and food security. Not only do we need to double productivity to meet the dietary needs of a population that’s on course to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, we must also ensure that the footprint of this increased food provision is minimized.

There are many statistics that illustrate the main food issues at large. Among these, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that as much as one-third of all the food produced globally is lost or wasted at a cost of more than US$ 940 billion annually. This, the FAO highlights, comes at the same time that one in nine people are malnourished.

With such multi-layered complexity to the challenge of food security, there’s of course no single silver bullet solution capable of fixing all food supply chains issues in all markets. Certainly, tackling such a tall order requires the adoption of multiple dynamic strategies – all contributing simultaneously. Fortunately, the startling numbers haven’t gone unnoticed; there’s an increasing number of savvy leaders looking at ways in which they can tackle food loss, waste, supply and environmental footprint issues. Many of them are also finding that their actions make financial sense, with hundreds of millions of dollars now being saved across the retail and foodservice sectors through game-changing measures. And the consensus is that much more can be achieved.

Preference for fresh

While frozen supply chains have tapped into this zeitgeist, offering greater convenience and year-round availability of seasonal products through tried and tested means, the sophisticated processing technologies now on hand mean that other, bolder solutions are available. Of these, the new chilling innovations that prolong the shelf-life of proteins are increasingly capturing the imagination of food companies. It has also been widely recognized that fish, as a high value but highly perishable category, is ideally placed to capitalize on these particular breakthroughs as well as consumer markets’ overriding preference for fresh seafood products.

The Skaginn 3X SUB-CHILLING™ system has been specifically designed for the aquaculture and fisheries sectors, chilling whole fish down to below the freezing point of water in about one hour without actually freezing them. This process also avoids the development of large ice crystals in the products’ muscles, which can lead to reduced quality. Our new method, which is the result of years of collaborative R&D with leading experts in this field, actually means the fish themselves become the cooling refrigerant, thereby eliminating the need to use additional forms of refrigerants like gel pads or flake-fluid ice. As well as saving on energy, not requiring ice also means that each box can transport more fish, thereby increasing freight cost-efficiency.

As our growing number of users have confirmed, the main commercial advantage of SUB-CHILLING™ is the extension of the product’s shelf-life by up to seven days. This in itself brings many upshots. As well as increasing the likelihood of consumption and reducing the risk of waste, again there’s much greater flexibility when it comes to transportation, especially by making competitively-priced ocean transport a much more viable method. Other important benefits include increased processing and cooking yields compared with traditional cold handling. It’s also been proven that the sub-chilled fillets exhibit less gaping and are better suited to pin-boning processes. Collectively, all these factors have led to higher product prices and strong returns on investment (ROI).

Because all fish is at its absolute best immediately after being caught or harvested, variations of our system can be installed either onboard catching vessels or next to where the slaughtering of farmed fish takes place. The close proximity of these activities ensures that all of the flavor and healthy nutrients of the fish are locked in as quickly as possible, thereby optimizing product freshness and quality.

In the pink

As a consumer product, very few varieties of seafood are able to compete on the same levels of supply and international demand as farmed Atlantic salmon. The increasing global appetite for this fish has seen the salmon farming industry’s output grow by almost 400 percent since 1995 to a level well in excess of 2 million tons. With the fiercely competitive Norwegian salmon sector accounting for more than half the world’s production, some of its leading players were quick to see the many merits of our SUB-CHILLING™ system.

Of these, Grieg Seafood ASA was first to invest, with its initial system becoming fully operational in early 2017. In addition to extending product shelf-life, it saw the opportunity to overcome seasonal temperature fluctuations, thereby increasing the chilling consistency and product quality throughout the year. And in terms of sales, Grieg reported that it was able to reach new distance markets with its chilled products. Last but certainly not least, it recognized the significant contribution that such a cutting-edge sub-chilling system could have on its commitment to reduce the environmental effects associated with salmon production and transportation.

Such ambitions are becoming increasingly commonplace in seafood value chains. Indeed, with earlier industry studies establishing that farmed salmon already had a considerably lower carbon footprint than farmed terrestrial animals such as pork and beef, and that it was recording CO2 emissions that were on par with chicken when calculating all the inputs of the entire lifecycle of the two products, the carbon footprint reducing attributes of SUB-CHILLING™ now sets salmon apart as the greenest commercially farmed livestock available to the market.

As one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by the 193 member states of the United Nations is a commitment to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and to reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030, it’s clear that this technology will have an increasingly important role to play in the future of global food security.

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