Agreeing frozen fish dates sparks hot debate

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Fishy question: what should be the freeze date? At sea or after processing?
Fishy question: what should be the freeze date? At sea or after processing?
Consumers could be put off eating fish, if new EU rules governing the labelling dates of frozen fish are not better defined, the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) has warned.

Under the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIR), which comes into force on December 13, the first date on which a fish was frozen must be labelled on pack.

However, there is confusion about whether this means the first date on which a fish is frozen or the first date on which a product containing fish is frozen, claimed BFFF technical manager Su Dakin. This is a problem, since fish could be kept frozen for up to a year after being beheaded and gutted at sea, and before processing, said Dakin.

‘Should be applied’

“But it’s not a fish product when it is frozen at sea​,” said Dakin. “It becomes a fish product once its filleted or processed, so we think the date of freezing should be applied to the product that is sold to the consumer.”

Putting the freezing at sea dates on fish could put consumers off buying what is a wholesome protein, she argued. They might see that a product had been labelled as frozen up to a year before and view that negatively.

There were also issues, such as when fish from different batches, frozen on different dates, were mixed during processing, she said. “Manufacturers could label a product with the oldest date a fish used in a batch was frozen, but then that’s not right, because there could be some fish in there that were frozen months later.”

Disagreed

Some UK processors were already operating under the BFFF’s guidance and labelling fish products with the date of freezing after processing. However, Dakin said there were some Member States that disagreed with this and called for the first date a fish was frozen to be labelled.

The issue had been referred to the European Commission (EC) over two years ago, said Dakin. She called for it to be resolved as soon as possible before it was too late for manufacturers to make changes as FIR comes into force.

An EC working group on labelling is scheduled to discuss the freezing issue at a meeting in September, said an EC spokeswoman. But Dakin warned this might be too late to prevent firms adopting the wrong system in advance of the new FIR rules.

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