EU narrows processors’ time limit for salmon stiffening

European Parliament has set a 96-hour time limit on salmon stiffening in a move the industry said will cost jobs and cause food waste
A salmon processing plant employee measuring temperature of smoked salmon
European Parliament has set time limits on salmon stiffening, a longstanding process used by processors whereby the ambient temperature of fresh salmon fillets are reduced to between -4 and -14 degrees Celsius | Photo courtesy of TemporalStreet/Shutterstock
6 Min

The European Parliament has passed changes to a regulation for smoked salmon processing put forward by the European Commission in December 2023, rejecting concerns from fish processors and seafood supply chains.

The adjustments focus on “stiffening,” a longstanding process used by processors, whereby the ambient temperature of fresh salmon fillets are reduced to between -4 and -14 degrees Celsius to make slicing easier. The procedure also provides additional safeguards against harmful bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes.

While stiffening is regulated under Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) standards, until now, processors have been determining their own stiffening times. However, the European Commission has now adopted a new regulation imposing a 96-hour time limit on the process.

Salmon processors warned the European Parliament the delegated regulation change could lead to large-scale job losses, particularly in regions traditionally reliant on the industry. Companies also said the new regulation could potentially create more food waste and adversely affect the competitiveness and sustainability of fish processors in the E.U. Processors also said there could be shortages in the availability of fish products, which would in turn increases prices for final consumers and raise the bloc’s dependency on imports.

The Polish Association of Fish Processors (PSPR) said the change will add operational and logistical complications, as companies often require as much as two weeks for these processes, including delivery to retail customers. Poland is one of Europe’s leading smoked salmon processors, with an annual estimated output of 200,000 metric tons (MT).

PSDR maintains that smoked fillets which are kept at stiffening temperature remain safe for consumption for as long as 180 days, and that the new proposal lacks scientific justification. The association also noted the new timeframe hasn’t received any endorsement from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and that the new rules do not include a transitional period to allow the fish processing industry to adjust their operations. It suggested this could undermine the competitiveness and sustainability of large-scale fish processors across the Union.

However, in adopting the proposal, the European Parliament suggested it will improve food safety and reduce waste. 

“The vote against the objection is a victory for the consumers,” E.U. Commission Deputy Head of Food Hygiene Paolo Caricato said on LinkedIn

Caricato said some processors were exploiting the vague rules around stiffening to keep salmon in a frozen state for months before selling it as “fresh” salmon with no indications it had been frozen.

“Who buys food has the right to eat a safe product, produced in a fair way, honestly, and in compliance with the rules," he said.

Simultaneously, on 18 April, EFSA published a scientific opinion evaluating new methods for detecting and killing parasites in fish. It determined many of the most commonly farmed and consumed fish in the E.U. show no evidence parasites found in seafood can infect humans, but that some farmed species, including European sea bass and Atlantic bluefin tuna, can contain parasites. Fish produced in closed recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) with filtered water intake and heat-treated feed are almost certainly free of zoonotic parasites, EFSA advised. And the study determined farmed ... 

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