It’s interesting to have this debate with a sensible and well-informed customer. The subject of refreezing is a challenging, if small, aspect of running the Fish Society.
As I explained, it is very hard to figure out in every case how much packaging is required to keep a parcel frozen. Every parcel is different. He wants 1kg of squid rings – a nightmare as there is so much surface area and very little inner coldness. She wants 2kgs herring melts – very easy to pack as they are solid blocks with a large inner reservoir of coldness. Person three wants melts and rings… hmmm.
The only way to ensure every parcel arrived hard frozen would be to overpackage almost every parcel. But this would increase the cost of delivery to a figure which would put off most customers.
It would also be very wasteful because most parcels would not need the extra packaging applied to them, since they would stay frozen without it.
So our policy is to package to a level which will keep defrosts and partial defrosts below one per cent.
Nyrena, below I offer my complete chapter and verse on this whole subject. I wrote at a high level of detail because I am planning to publish this on our blog.
All the best
1) We try very hard to get the fish to you frozen, without spending inordinate amounts keeping it frozen.
2) If you are unhappy with the temperature at which it arrives (regardless of our own views), we will refund you in full. Obviously, we do not have to do this very often, otherwise we would be out of business.
3) However, if the fish arrives unfrozen, it’s not necessarily a writeoff. This indeed is what it says on the foodsafety.gov website you directed me to http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/frozen_food.html. In fact it implies more: that if the fish has been OVER 5C FOR LESS THAN 2 HOURS, IT MAY BE REFROZEN.
4) This is a more aggressive prescription than I would be happy with. How do you know how long it has been over 40F? What if it had reached 60F for 90 minutes?
5) Our normal advice: if the fish is over 5C it should be discarded. If it never got over 5C, it is OK to refreeze. Even if it was say 4C for a few hours. I can assure you that I have eaten many kilos of fish which reached 5C and were then refrozen, without ill effect.
6) In fact, of course, most customers are not going to take the temperature of their fish. So we say, ‘If it’s “cold to the touch”, it is OK to refreeze’. Most customers know what cold top the touch means and furthermore, most customers innately know that a frozen product which has unintentionally defrosted without coming up to room temperature is in fact safe to refreeze. They know it is not a writeoff. Notwithstanding the widespread advice that you should never refreeze a defrosted product, their common sense tells them that. I know this because in 20 years of running The Fish Society, I have had perhaps 500 conversations on this subject with all sorts of customers.
7) TEXTURE AND FLAVOUR LOSS
It is true that there will be some texture and flavour loss, but the extent to which this will diminish your eating pleasure will normally be very slight and often undetectable unless you have a very distinguished palate. If the fish was at 5C for ten hours and awash in watery runoff by the time it was refrozen, then the diminution would be clear to most people. If it was only partially defrosted and there was no water runoff, then most people would find it difficult to taste the difference in a blind taste test. You could easily test this yourself. Take a packet containing two pieces of frozen fish. Defrost one in your fridge overnight then refreeze. Then cook both and serve them up to a friend. Can your friend taste the difference?
8) Obviously we would prefer there to be no defrosting and no texture and flavour loss. But if it is clearly going to be slight, because the defrosting itself is clearly slight, we always try to reassure the customer along the lines set out above.
9) Often this is a difficult conversation, although we always seek to conclude it in a friendly manner and I would remind you that our bottom line is, if you’re not happy, we will refund you in full. Some customers just won’t have it. Of the 500 conversations referred to above, perhaps 40 have ended up with the customer quoting me the “You should never refreeze a defrosted product. Anything even slightly defrosted is not good enough.” So we give these people a refund – they are certainly entitled to it. And we sack them, which is our entitlement.
10) Most of the other 460 conversations, by the way, ended up with us making a refund of 20 to 40% of the value of the affected items (eg the squid rings but not the herring melts) by way of our acknowledging that the delivery was not perfect but little was lost.
11) So why does virtually every packet of frozen food say “Never refreeze a defrosted product”? Well, that’s because you are trying to give millions of people some meaningful and important advice. A defrosted product which is left around at room temperature for several hours could be very dangerous. Especially if it was then refrozen without any sign of having been defrosted. Perhaps a quarter of the population would be oblivious to this danger. In the UK, that would be 15m people. To protect them from dangerously defrosted and refrozen food, you need to drill in “Never refreeze a defrosted product”, because anything more subtle would confuse them.
12) But many of the rest of the population can understand more sophisticated advice, such as “If it’s cold to the touch, it’s OK to refreeze.” Furthermore, defrosting and refreezing is an everyday procedure in the food processing industry. It is done under controlled conditions including keeping the defrosted product chilled. If this procedure was forbidden, many popular foods would disappear from supermarket shelves.
From: Nyrena Brown
Sent: 13 July 2013 11:54
To: James Smith
Subject: Re: oh, dear
Please can you reship the order appropriately packed.
I attach a link to the government’s food safety website and the delivery would definitely have met the ‘discard’ criteria. I also find it interesting that you are suggesting that if the fish is partially defrosted it can be refrozen when the food safety site suggests that doing this will result in a loss of texture and/or flavour.
regards and thanks
From: James Smith
Sent: Thursday, July 11, 2013 2:00 PM
Subject: FW: oh, dear
Hello Mrs Brown
Thanks for this email. It makes me feel a rather humble.
The refund went thru on 3 July and will be on your next statement.
Would you like us to re-ship that order?
Shall I ask Kim to call you about a delivery date?
From: Nyrena Brown
Sent: 11 July 2013 12:50
To: James Smith
Subject: Re: oh, dear
Dear Mr Smith,
Thank you for your reply and apologies.
Thank you for your offer of a full refund, which I look forward to receiving.
I have always been instructed that it is not advisable to refreeze fish or meat once defrosted. The order I received on 3rd July was thawed and soggy, thus I had to throw it all away. I have never experienced thawed fish from yourselves, this is the first time this has happened.
I would like to proceed on the basis you refer to below, especially during these hot summer days and I am willing to pay the extra cost to ensure the order arrives frozen and packed properly.
From: James Smith
Sent: Wednesday, July 03, 2013 6:39 PM
Subject: oh, dear
Dear Mrs Brown
We have been very grateful for your orders over many years
Of course we always try to ensure that our orders arrive frozen. To do this we could EITHER use “more than enough” dry ice and special packaging (all expensive) OR make some judgements about what is sufficient. However, not every judgement is dead right, so there is always a small risk of the fish arriving not quite hard frozen at your door. Based on the number of orders you have received, I am sure you will have experienced this once or twice .
Slightly defrosted fish is not a health hazard. It is perfectly fine to refreeze as long as the temperature is below 5C. Most of our customers recognise this. When your assistant rang however, I found her very unreasonable. She insisted that anything that had ever been partly defrosted could never be refrozen. She seemed determined to get a total replacement of the fish. I have instead refunded you in full.
We cannot deal with such people. However, looking at the many orders you have placed, this makes me very sad.
Nyrena, I can only suggest that for any future orders from you we would
1) pack with extra dry ice
2) always use a poly box and
3) send “by noon”.
This would cost you an extra £10 per order. Basically, this is the “more than enough” approach and this is the cost of it.
If you would like to proceed on this basis, please let me know.
Nyrena Brown is not this customer’s real name.