Wild harvest: Part 2 – fish

Harvesting and preparing wild foods with food safety in mind.

Finally, the days are getting warmer and leaves are forming on the trees. Spring, to me marks the beginning of many things both pleasant and unpleasant – mosquitos, black flies, ticks, vegetable gardening and fishing! I was lucky to grow up on a river and (I think) I learned to cast a worm before I learned to walk. Each Mother’s Day my extended family would come to the Upper Peninsula and we would sit on the banks and catch suckers all weekend. Once the catching and cleaning was done, my mother and I would can the fish. The fish would later resurface as “fish patties” that my dad would prepare for my lunch throughout the fall and winter.

Now that fishing season is here it’s a good time to review some safe-handling tips to prevent foodborne illness. Freshly caught fish is highly susceptible to tissue decomposition, rancidity and microbial spoilage, so it is important to do the following:

  • Keep the fish alive as long as possible. Bacteria naturally found on fish will start to grow rapidly when the fish is dead and kept in warm surface water. Two hours or less between catching and cleaning is preferable.
  • Clean and cool the fish as soon as possible. The flesh will begin deteriorating as soon as the fish leaves the water, and warm summer temperatures will promote bacterial growth. Have a cooler of ice ready to store your cleaned fish.
  • Make sure to use clean, potable water for rinsing cleaned fish. Keep cleaned fish on ice until further processing.
  • Use clean utensils when preparing fish.
  • If not eating the fish right away, properly can, freeze or smoke your catch to preserve it. For more information on these processes visit the Michigan State University Extension website.
  • Pickling is another way to preserve your catch. Pickled fish need to either be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit before pickling, or need to be frozen at zero degree for 48 hours before pickling to kill parasites.
  • When cooking fish always make sure to cook to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Never eat raw or undercooked fish.
  • Check for any fish consumption advisories in your area before catching fish you intend to eat.

For any further questions on food safety or the process of preserving your catch, contact your local MSU Extension office or visit us online. To read more about wild harvest read Wild harvest: Part 3 – eating weeds.

Now get out there and enjoy some spring fishing!

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