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Things to Look Out for When Buying Seafood for Your Restaurant

By: Grant King, HospitalityHub Writer
11 March, 2016

This article won’t offer advice on where to buy your seafood; your merchant options – direct from fishing boats or through local seafood outlets - will be largely dictated by geography.

Instead it offers tips on how to tell if seafood is fresh and of good quality. In fact, it’s not really an article, more a highlights reel of fresh seafood versus not fresh seafood. No prose, just pros. Print it and keep it with you for your next shopping trip.

Whole Fish

Fresh: Bright, clear eyes that protrude. Bright red or pink gills. Firm flesh that springs back when touched. Shiny skin. Firmly rooted scales.

Not fresh: Cloudy, pink and sunken eyes. Grey, brown, green or just plain dull gills. Dull skin and faded markings. Soft flesh that falls off the bone. Loose scales. Slimy to touch.

Fish Fillets

Fresh: Firm, springy flesh. Moist and largely transparent.

Not fresh: Soft flesh. Bruised or red flesh due to blood retention. Discoloured or brown edges. 

Shellfish (clams, mussels, oysters)

Fresh: Shells should be tightly closed and moist. If open, shells close when tapped. No pungent odour. 

Not fresh: Cracked shells. Open shells that don’t close when tapped. Pungent odour.


Fresh: Firm texture. Creamy-white colour. Some orange or pink coloration is also normal. Clean, sweet aroma.

Not fresh: Muscle fibres are pulling apart. Sour, fishy smell.

Live lobsters and crabs

Fresh: Well, they’re still alive, so that’s generally pretty fresh. Lobsters legs should still move. When picked up, tail should curl tightly, not hang limply.  

Not fresh: As a rule, dead.


Fresh: If uncooked, translucent shells with a light pink, pinkish tan or greyish green tint. Firm flesh. Mild odour. If cooked, meat should be firm and white with red or pink tints.  

Not fresh: Shells with black edges and spots. Bad odour.

Whole squid 

Fresh: Flesh is cream with red-to-brown spots, very firm and skin untorn. Eyes are clear and full.

Not fresh: Pinkish skin and yellow flesh.

Frozen Seafood

These days commercially frozen seafood can be pretty much as fresh as, well, fresh seafood. Make sure packaging is tight-fitting and moisture-proof and try to choose packs from under the top layer as long as the packaging is intact and there is no freezer burn.

Happy shopping!