Back to FISH Vol 30 1
PUBLISHED 4 Mar 2022

The cold-chain practice remains key in maintaining seafood safety, but a new study identifies other steps in the supply chain to protect consumers and ensure their seafood meal choices have no unexpected health consequences

By Cristina Lesseur (CL Advisory Pty Ltd) on behalf of SafeFish

The seafood sector has taken advantage of the growing trend of ready-to-eat foods, along with convenience and alternative delivery options for consumers in recent years. The impact of COVID-19 has accelerated the demand for these services, with direct-to-consumer models, more takeaway options and in-house and third-party deliveries continuing to increase.

Changing consumer preferences have also seen an increase in demand for healthier options, adding raw and lightly processed food into the mix. Seafood provides a high-quality protein, and added functional benefits from some species include healthy fats, iodine, zinc and omega fatty acids.

Short-shelf-life ready-to-eat (SSL-RTE) seafood is consumed in the same state in which it is sold, with a potential shelf life of one to eight days. Figure 1 illustrates the most commonly used ready-to-eat species and the most common preparation methods. SSL-RTE seafood includes fresh raw products such as oysters and sashimi-grade fish and minimally processed seafood such as hot or cold smoked salmon, precooked but sold fresh cocktail prawns, and preparations with a light curing step such as sushi, poke bowls, ceviche and fish carpaccio.

Safety practices

This increasing diversity is expanding the ways people can buy and enjoy eating seafood. But it also creates new food safety challenges associated with the way seafood ingredients are handled, stored, prepared and consumed. The mixing of ingredients from different sources, with varied supply chain histories and confusion around safe handling and shelf life, is a particular challenge in the ready-to-eat market.


Image of species used in short-shelf-life ready-to-eat seafood products (from most common to least common) and Short-shelf-life ready-to-eat seafood products (from most common to least common). Source: SafeFish
FIGURE 1: Species used in short-shelf-life ready-to-eat seafood products (from most common to least common) and Short-shelf-life ready-to-eat seafood products (from most common to least common). Source: SafeFish


SafeFish is the seafood sector's food safety technical advisory body, funded largely by the FRDC, and in 2021 it analysed the current supply chain practices in the SSL-RTE market. It did this through a situational analysis that surveyed 56 seafood businesses and conducted 21 in-depth interviews. The research targeted seafood producers, distributors, processors, food service providers, retailers and delivery services, as well as regulators, food safety auditors and risk experts.

The study found that many operators in the seafood sector were well aware of food risks and adopted effective safety practices and standards to control them, such as the crucial understanding of maintaining cold temperatures throughout the chain. However, seafood suppliers are not confident in consumers' understanding of these risks.

Most packaged SSL-RTE seafood has precautionary labelling and alerts to inform consumers of food safety risks if the food is not stored or prepared appropriately – often with more detail than is required by regulations. But the survey findings suggest that, based on a lack of consumer awareness of the risks, advice on labels may not always be followed correctly.

Risk factors

Although there have been no widespread instances of illnesses associated with SSL-RTE seafood in Australia, there remains an ongoing low level of seafood-related illnesses reported each year. The main causes of these illnesses are Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Vibrio spp., histamine poisoning, ciguatera toxin, Escherichia coli and biotoxins (substances that are both toxic and have a biological origin, for example toxic algal blooms).

Some of these risks are inherent in the marine environment from which seafood comes, particularly Vibrio bacteria, ciguatera toxins and marine biotoxins. FRDC-funded research has identified increasing instances of the above three as potential food safety risks in Australia, with researchers suggesting a link to warming oceans.

One particular concern is the need to protect vulnerable groups in the population: young children, pregnant women, people with a compromised immune system and the elderly. Food safety guidelines in most states provide specific guidance for these groups. One survey participant did note that targeted information promoting the safe consumption of seafood for pregnant women had greatly improved in recent years, which suggests more could be done to target other population groups from both a food safety and nutritional perspective.


The survey identified the following key challenges for SSL-RTE product development:

  • inconsistent cold temperature controls throughout the supply chain;
  • inconsistent product handling, quality or shelf life parameters that could affect intended use;
  • lack of standard definitions for terms such as 'sashimi grade';
  • confusing landscape of food safety standards, definitions and guidelines to follow because of the variety of product types and preparations; and
  • expectations from some retailers and consumers that seafood SSL-RTE products should have a longer shelf life than they do.


The SafeFish research identified a number of areas that could be further developed to help mitigate food safety risks:

  • improving cold-chain controls and monitoring throughout supply chains using information, technology and awareness;
  • developing e-training and online navigation tools to help product providers understand the processing, handling, cleaning, storing and labelling of seafood as a high-risk product;
  • supporting vulnerable populations with clear guidance about the foods they consume and the potential risks;
  • harmonising or simplifying existing standards for ready-to-eat foods;
  • improving instructions for consumers about ready-to-eat products, their intended use, appropriate handling and shelf life timeframes; and
  • developing education tools for providers and consumers about how to reduce food safety risks.

The Australian seafood sector has taken up the challenge to provide healthy, safe and innovative ready-to-eat products to consumers.

To continue to do this successfully and sustainably, operators, consumers and vulnerable populations need support with better tools, awareness and education measures. SafeFish and the seafood sector are working together to make this happen.

See the Food Safety of Short Shelf Life Ready to Eat (SSL-RTE) seafood report at the SafeFish website f


Safe seafood handling best practice

The following are three examples of best practice in safe seafood handling and communication identified during the SafeFish assessment of ready-to-eat products.

Sydney Fish Market

As Australia's largest seafood wholesale market, the Sydney Fish Market has developed extensive Seafood Handling Guidelines that are audited every six months. These guidelines include sections on sashimi fish, cooked crustacea and processed and overseas products, including ready-to-eat products. The guidelines can be downloaded and provide a starting point for others in the industry in evaluating and implementing their own practices.

Huon Aquaculture

Huon Online Shop FAQs explain how products are kept cold during shipment, and also provides clear details about how customers should handle their Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) products, and the expected shelf life of those products.

For example:

What is the product shelf life on dispatch?

Cold smoked, hot smoked – 25 minimum fresh days
Pâté – 25 minimum fresh days
Reserve hot smoked – 21 minimum fresh days
Reserve cold smoked – 21 minimum fresh days
Premium caviar – 17 minimum fresh days
Reserve caviar – 17 minimum fresh days
Premium portions – 12 minimum fresh days
Premium/sashimi-grade fillet – 9 minimum fresh days

Dinko Seafoods

The home page of the Dinko Seafoods website includes a visual guide with detailed instructions about the use of its premium Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) products. These instructions also come on cards supplied with each portion of tuna
sold (Figure 2).


Image of how to handle your tuna
Figure 2: how to handle your tuna

More information