Certified Quality Seafoods working with Trident Seafoods to develop “electric nose” to rate fish freshness

Published on
October 13, 2020

Juneau, Alaska-based Certified Quality Foods has been honing its Certified Quality Reader (CQR) with Trident Seafoods and other partners in their ongoing effort to provide the seafood industry with organized access to more objective quality data. 

The CQR is a small, handheld device that functions as an “electric nose.” Certified Quality Foods’ Co-Founder Keith Cox developed his version of the device through years of research in his capacity as a fish physiologist, and he and partner Chuck Anderson are looking to make the CQR a cornerstone of quality tracing of fish from the ocean to the plate. 

Cox and Anderson told SeafoodSource quality data is one of the places where the industry lags sorely behind in technological advances. Most quality data comes from the highly subjective and difficult practice of organoleptics, which relies on touch, smell, and sight to assess the freshness of fish.

Gary Haferkorn, a senior manager for food safety and quality assurance at Trident Seafoods, has been working with Certified Quality Foods for more than five years. He said traditional organoleptic evaluation an art requiring specialized training and experience that can be subjective.

“Everybody smells things just a little bit differently… Oftentimes, you can get five people together and all five people could have different opinions on the same fish based on subtle perceived differences in odor notes and intensity,” Haferkorn told SeafoodSource.

Haferkorn said Trident was interested in the possibility of objective quality data that could be gathered with minimal training, but the first step was trusting the device, which sends an electrical charges through the fish to measure cellular integrity, therefore measuring its freshness. As with all new technologies though, it’s important to verify accurate correlation with traditional sensory methods, Haferkorn said.

“A lot of getting used to this was understanding the science behind it. It’s essentially using electrical resistance and capacitance to indicate the condition of the cell membrane, because that’s where the first parts of breakdown happen,” Haferkorn said. 

To test the device, Haferkorn said Trident ran experiments, letting fish sit out for set for various periods of time to achieve different levels of predictable decomposition, then comparing the CQR’s readings to their predictions. 

“[The CQR] had very consistent numbering. I think there is some good science behind the concept,” Haferkorn said. 

From there, Kenny Lum, Trident’s vice president for quality and safety, said his company worked with Seafood Analytics to develop reliable quality control models. 

“We worked with them closely on collecting data to help develop standardization curves and to decide which algorithms matched up instrument readings with correlating fish quality,” Lum told SeafoodSource.

The next big development for making the CQR an effective tool was in data collection.

“In its infancy, it was a little challenging. You would hook it up to a computer and then it would just dump this raw data in,” Haferkorn said, adding that users then had to parse data themselves via Excel spreadsheets.

With feedback from processors like Trident – along with independent fishermen and others – Seafood Analytics added more “brains and storage” to the CQR, according to Anderson. 

The waterproof device now holds up to 8,000 measurements, and most importantly, those measurements can be easily uploaded to the Cloud and displayed on a dashboard known as the AMP, which stands for analytical monitoring program. 

“You plug the machine into a computer and it automatically starts uploading quality numbers and different aspects on screen, mostly in graphs,” Haferkorn said.

Haferkorn said this allows processors to watch trends and pinpoint issues that might be dragging quality down, like boats that might be towing too long or have insufficient refrigeration.

Anderson, who worked as a seafood buyer for more than 20 years before joining Seafood Analytics, said this objective quality data should allow people up and down the supply chain to not only get fresher fish, but to get more money for top-quality product.

“There’s only so many pounds of wild fish, so it’s important for fishermen, and everyone along the way, to get as much for each pound as they can,” Anderson added. 

Northline Seafoods, a processor in Bristol Bay, Alaska, has been using the CQR for the last past two seasons. Northline President Pat Glaab told SeafoodSource last year he sees the device as a key component in his company’s mission to produce higher-quality fillets that will command higher prices.

Cox said that studies show seafood consumers would be willing to pay more for premium seafood if there were a trustworthy grading system, much the way people pay more for prime-grade beef. 

“You can use this objective reading to differentiate your products, because you have a quality measure,” Cox said.

Photo courtesy of Certified Quality Foods

Contributing Editor reporting from Seattle, USA

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