Refreezing : for the record

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 website you directed me to 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. 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.

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.