Seafood plays a crucial role in global food security as a source of high-quality protein valued for its functional properties and nutritional value.
As a great healthy alternative to meat, seafood mainly includes fin and groundfish (haddock, plaice, cod, tuna), crustacean shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp), gastropods (periwinkles, sea-snails) and bivalve molluscan shellfish (oysters, cockles, clams, mussels).
Generally speaking, seafood is an important part of a healthy diet as strong evidence shows that it improves brain, eye, and heart health. However, like any perishable item, seafood can get spoilt or bruised if not shipped carefully.
As such, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the requirements and unique preparation process entailed in safely delivering seafood to its destination.
Key challenges of shipping seafood
The main challenges involved in shipping seafood are:
- Fermentation during rainy or hot seasons.
- Bacterial growth and low temperatures
- Lack of record keeping and lapses in resource management
- Deficient cold storage and unhygienic environments
- Lack of real-time traceability
- Excessive loss of moisture that can make a product freezer burn
How to pack seafood for shipping?
Following are the recommended steps to pack seafood before shipping:
- Firstly, place your frozen seafood in protective plastic bags that are at least 4mm thick and puncture-resistant.
- Secondly, employ zip-ties to secure the bag to prevent any leakage and spillage.
- Thirdly, twist, fold, and remove excess air, then tie the bag tightly.
- Repeat the previous step and add frozen gel packs to the next plastic bag at the bottom. Then subsequently place the seafood package on an absorbent mat inside the box and bag, twist, fold, and tie again.
- Subsequently, prepare an insulated container and make space for dry ice. Afterwards, keep seafood packages in the container with dry ice, and fill the space with loose-fill packing peanuts or mic-pack polyform.
- Close the insulated container lid. However, not fully closed because of dry ice.
- Finally, place the insulated container box into an outer corrugated box and pack the box with the H-taping method, then apply it to all flaps and seams.
Materials needed to package seafood
To package seafood, some materials are typically used, such as:
- Dry ice/ gel pack/wet ice
- Dry Ice labels
- Insulated container lid
- Outer corrugated box
- Insulated container
- 2-mil plastic liner
- Absorbent mat/towel
- Zip-tie or another tie
- 3-4 plastic bags at least 4mm thick
Seafood shipping process
Seafood shipping follows a series of steps:
Step 1: Ask the shipper or carrier for a quote before commencing the shipping of fresh seafood.
Step 2: Hire a competent and reputable freight forwarder to manage the complete freight process.
Step 3: Issue a purchase order so the freight forwarders can arrange the transportation of goods.
Step 4: Get a letter of credit from your bank so that the supplier can issue the order confirmation and commercial invoice for custom clearance purchases.
Step 5: Ensure your shipper prepares the following documents in accordance with the regulatory statutes of the territory:
- Shipper’s letter of instruction
- Certificate of Origin
- Dangerous goods
- Export declaration
- A permit to export/import prohibited goods
Step 6: To avert any possible disappointment, book freight early so that goods are easily processed through customs clearance and export declaration.
Step 8: After passing the custom process, your goods should be delivered to the buyer or consignee.
Tips for safely shipping seafood.
1. Pay attention to temperature and heat.
Generally, the storage life span of frozen seafood depends on the temperature of the environment it is stored in. For instance, when fish is frozen within a short duration after being caught and stored at -20 degrees, it can remain in top condition for up to 8 months.
However, when stored at 15 degrees, it only remains in good condition for only one month. As such, small temperature nuances are important to consider to keep seafood properly frozen and stored while in transit.
2. Package them well
Ensure to carefully consider key elements when choosing the packaging like:
- Selecting durable, watertight packaging, with insulation.
- Preventing any leakage and ensuring that you eliminate as much air out of the package as possible, regardless of the container type you use.
- For live shellfish such as crab, employ containers like insulated totes or wetlock cartons, marked with “This Side Up” labels.
- Seal and secure containers with strapping tape, or a similar material.
3. Choose the right design of packing containers
Typically, container packaging is used to transport fresh or frozen seafood. These sturdy containers can come in different shapes. For example, a two-piece wax box, foam box, fold-up box, or even a plastic cooler.
To decide which packaging box is most suitable, consider factors like:
- Whether it will be shipped as frozen or fresh?
- Whether the seafood will be cut to size or left as a whole?
overall, containers should be designed to keep seafood delivered at a temperature that is no higher than zero degrees, though preferably below 5 degrees.
Furthermore, it’s recommended to include about five inches of suitable insulation. However, the insulation must be light, with low thermal conductivity and resistant to moisture penetration—for example, aluminium.
4. Use refrigerants when needed
When transporting frozen seafood, refrigerants aren’t really needed as the frozen nature and ice keep them safe for the entire trip. However, when shipping fresh seafood, you will undoubtedly require a refrigerant like gel ice, wet ice, or dry ice.
5. Give proper labelling and marking
Packages should always be labelled with indelible inks and waterproof labels whilst also remaining properly sealed. Sometimes, a ‘Fish/Wildlife’ sticker may also be employed by the shipper to provide the required information. Typically, the following items are usually displayed on each shipment:
- Name and address of shipper/consignee
- 24-hour phone number of the consignee
- Specifies species name: such as king salmon
- Sticker for the commodity to be noted as Fish or Wildlife
- Number of each species, or the weight of each type of species
- Each container must be clearly marked Live, Fresh or Frozen
6. Understand the international regulations for shipping seafood and perishables
When considering shipping seafood, it is crucial to get acquainted with different regulations governing perishables transportation. Different written handbooks like the Perishable Cargo Regulations (PCR) manual exist (depending on your territory) that you can reference for guidance on shipping perishable items like fresh seafood.
For example, some regulations dictate that a shipment is perishable if its contents deteriorate over a specific period of time when exposed to harsh conditions, like humidity or extreme temperatures.
7. Use proper shipping routes
On average, takes a carrier about 10–24 hours to reach their destination. As such, ensure to employ the right materials to package your seafood, with sufficient protection and refrigeration to maintain a frozen environment during the transportation time.
8. Get proper documentation
Always ensure you have the appropriate documentation to ship seafood. For example:
- Shipper’s Export Declaration
- Shipper’s Certificate for live animals
- Airway bill
- Certificate of origin
- Commercial Invoice
- Healthy Inspection Certificate
- CITES Certificate
- Insurance Certificate
9. Get your shipments insured
Your carrier should allow you to purchase additional shipping insurance atop your shipping cost. This additional insurance comes in handy as specific types of seafood are high-value items and expensive to replace. And thus, they are worth protecting with shipping insurance during transit.
The importance of partnering with a reputed offshore reefer container agency
Since seafood is very sensitive, you should understand which type of refrigerated containers are best for your seafood shipment needs. Fundamentally, the best offshore reefer container agencies should offer some of these services:
- DNV and ISO-certified offshore reefer container purchase and rental options.
- Expertise in shipping seafood and other temperature-sensitive products to offshore locations.
- Tie-ups with an overnight shipping service so that seafood can be delivered the next day to save clients time.
- Round-the-clock reefer container maintenance and technical support.
- Automated temperature and ventilation monitoring as offered by DNV offshore reefer containers.
- Real-time tracking of containers during transit.
Choosing a good offshore refrigerated container for transporting seafood could be one of the most important factors in assuring the quality of the products when they reach their location.
Modern DNV-certified reefer containers, as offered by MGS Offshore come with advanced features that ensure that your seafood is shipped under optimum conditions.
All things considered, the worldwide consumption of seafood is steadily increasing due to advances in aquaculture, and the presumed health benefits of seafood.
This means that it’s more imperative than ever to keep seafood safe and consumable during transit with suitable coolant, containers and packing methods to suit your mode of shipment and shipping duration.
So, since seafood plays a critical role in the world’s food chain, extra precautions should be taken when exporting seafood or frozen fish between continents. So, to ensure an optimal cold chain is maintained, keep the following points in mind:
- Employ leak-proof plastic bags and seal them properly.
- Always place seafood in a portable refrigerator.
- Packaging should always be in well build sturdy containers/boxes
- Ensure to keep the temperatures below 40F.
- Pack food with dry ice or different cooling material.
- Always use a cautious label.
- Choose DNV certified offshore reefer containers for transportation.
A graduate (Business) from KDU, Jason Tan, is the current Business Director (Sales) for MGS Icestorm and has been associated with the company for the past 10 years.
With over 13 years in the shipping industry, he has had a significant contribution to Malaysia’s oil and gas industry in the engine and boat supply sector.
His expertise includes managing offshore catering business, offshore reefer containers, AI technology, offshore gas tanks, A60 pressurized cabins, etc. His contributions have helped establish MGS, in partnership (joint venture) with Thermo King and Honeywell to produce state of art Offshore Reefer Container products.