Meat and fish handling and storage

Meat and fish handling and storage is an important chapter to fully understand. It will also teach when it is important to bring a freezer bag to buy your meat or fish.

Beef and lamb store more easy and at higher temperatures than poultry. And poultry more so than fish. The main reason is that beef and lamb contain more saturated fats than fowl. And fowl has more saturated fats than fish. The more unsaturated the oil, the more prone to oxidation, causing taste decline. The rancid taste is also negatively affecting the healthiness of the food. But in fish storage there is another factor: enzymes that are actively working on the proteins.


Fish is desirable, since unsaturated fats are healthy, but it also will spoil faster. In addition, deep sea fish and arctic fish and mollusks live in cold water areas and their enzymes are therefore most active at low temperatures. Therefore keep shell fish and deep sea fish on ice and consume them relatively quickly. Tropical fish that do not live in the deep sea have a bit more tolerance.  But also the more fatty the fish, the faster it will spoil.

Unfortunately, many grocery stores  store the fish (including fatty salmon and mackerel) at too high temperature. Fish mongers and specialized fish departments in some grocery stores do it right and use plenty of ice to keep the fish fresh. When in hot climates, ask to add some ice to the freshly bought fish: it will keep the quality up! It is also the reason why Chinese restaurants will try to keep fish alive and only kill it just before preparing it. While some consider this cruel, the taste of fresh fish is certainly discernible.  In Hong Kong, I mostly buy fish on the fresh market and they either kill the fish in front of your eyes or have already put them on ice.

Shellfish, in addition, is very sensitive and should be kept on ice, or alive. Transport shell fish alive in sea water at ambient temperature. Shrimp is also transported alive, or on ice when dead. The liver of the shrimp is in the head. Thus as soon as the shrimp is dead, the liver enzymes will start to degrade the proteins in the meat of the shrimp. Lower temperatures slow this process. So therefore keep the shrimp on ice and remove the head if possible if the dish allows. Alternatively, cut the neck.


In many South East Asian markets, you chose the chicken after which the animal is killed. In more remote situations, you buy a live chicken on the market and kill it at home. The reason is that the poultry meat quickly goes bad and it prevents the need to have refrigerators installed at the market place. While this confronts the meat eaters with the cruel fact that animals are killed to provide us food, it is the reality and may make some of us more appreciative of becoming vegetarian or at the least eat less meat.

Lamb and beef and to a slightly lesser extent pork are more forgiving in terms of storage temperature. The meat can be seen hanging in market stalls in hot climates. Frying, grilling or baking the outside of the meat will kill any bacteria and the inside of the meat should not contain unpleasant bacteria or parasites unless the animal was ill.

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