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Organoleptic quality of fish and fish products


Safe Food for Canadians (SFC) licence holders, both domestic food businesses and importers, have a responsibility to prepare and import safe and suitable food – this includes fish and fish products of acceptable organoleptic quality.

This document provides guidance on assessing the organoleptic quality of fish and fish products to ensure they are suitable for human consumption.

Suitable food is a food that is acceptable for human consumption according to its intended use based on the absence of contamination, whether by extraneous material or otherwise, or because it is not or does not contain a filthy, putrid, disgusting, rotten or decomposed substance, or a diseased animal or vegetable substance.


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) created this document as guidance to help food businesses comply with the requirements set out in the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, particularly subsection 8(1)(c).

Organoleptic quality

The organoleptic quality of a food affects how a consumer experiences the food via their senses (look, taste, smell, and touch). The SFCR uses the terms "filthy, putrid, disgusting, rotten, decomposed, or diseased" to describe organoleptic properties that are not permitted in food intended for interprovincial trade, import, or export. Following are examples of foods that present these properties and are considered unsuitable.

The SFCR also includes quality-related standards in the Canadian Standards of Identity: Volume 3 – Fish and the Canadian Grade Compendium: Volume 8 – Fish.

Keep in mind

Food that is unsuitable for human consumption may or may not cause illness or otherwise harm the consumer. If the unsuitable attribute of the food could harm a consumer (for example, fish containing parasites that would not be killed by the intended use; presence of biogenic amines due to decomposition), this needs to be identified as a hazard in your preventive control plan and controlled using effective control measures.

Sensory evaluations

The organoleptic quality of fish or a fish product can be determined by conducting sensory evaluations for various attributes such as appearance, flavour, odour and texture.

Sensory evaluations should be conducted by someone that has the competency to perform objective assessments.

Information on the sensory evaluation of specific fish and fish products, including essential quality factors, sampling plans, defect definitions and lot acceptance criteria, can be found in the relevant Codex standard. These standards are available on the Codex Alimentarius website, including standards for:

Hygienic practices

The organoleptic quality of ingredients and finished food products can deteriorate if they are not handled in a hygienic manner. The preventive control requirements in Part 4 of the SFCR are intended to help ensure the preparation of safe and suitable food. Food businesses are responsible for complying with these requirements. Importers are responsible for ensuring that the food they import has been manufactured, prepared, stored, packaged and labelled under similarly hygienic conditions.

Personnel should have competency in sensory evaluation to ensure incoming lots of fish are of acceptable organoleptic quality.

Don't forget

If you receive a complaint about a food you prepared or imported, you are required to document the details of the complaint, the results of your investigation and any actions you take based on the results of your investigation. This includes documenting any complaints related to organoleptic quality.

Supplementary methods for assessing organoleptic quality

Microbiological analysis for indicator organisms of spoilage and poor quality can provide additional confirmation that your product is of acceptable organoleptic quality.

When fish is decomposing, substances such as histamine, indole, biogenic amines (putrescine, cadaverine) and total volatile base nitrogen (TVBN) are produced, some of which are also harmful to human health above safe levels. Testing for these substances can serve as an indicator of decomposition and can be used to corroborate the results from sensory analysis.


CFIA references
Other references
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