According to tests done by Consumer Reports, the results of which were published in the magazine early this year, almost 40 percent of the fish it sampled was past its prime or suffered from improper storage. Nearly half the fish it tested was contaminated.

The FDA has announced plans for a fish-safety program.Referred to as the "hazard analysis critical control point" program (HACCP), it requires processors to determine where and how something could go wrong and to find a way to prevent problems. Producers would have to keep careful records to demonstrate they are maintaining quality control and show that problems have been eliminated.

In the meantime, here are tips from the January 1994 issue of Consumer Reports about how to buy fresh fish.

- Use your nose. Fresh fish smell like the sea but without a strong odor. Freshwater fish often smell like cucumbers. If a fish has a strong odor, it may be spoiled.

- If you're buying a whole fish, look for bright, clear, bulging eyes. Cloudy, sunken, discolored or slimy eyes often mean that fish is about to spoil. The gills should be bright red and moist. Whole fish should be displayed on ice, away from hot lights.

- If you're buying steaks or fillets, look for moist flesh that still has a translucent sheen. If the flesh is dried out or if the fibers are beginning to pull apart, the fish is old. Fillets displayed in separate pans surrounded by ice indicate that the retailer is mindful of quality.

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- Be wary of cooked seafood displayed next to raw seafood. That's a potential health hazard.

- Quickly refrigerate the fish you buy in its original wrapper. Store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator and use it within a day.

- Clean cooking surfaces after you've prepared the fish to avoid spreading bacteria.

- Cook the fish thoroughly. It should be opaque and flake easily with a fork.

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