Some of the fish products that you purchase and consume may not be what you think they are. A new study from Oceana shows that many retailers and restaurants regularly mislabel fish products that they sell to consumers. This is cause for concern as consuming mislabeled food products can lead to sickness and emergency situations for some unsuspecting individuals, including you.
Fish product fraud includes any falsified information of fish products, including short weighting and swapping one fish species for another (usually a cheaper, less desirable species in place of a more expensive variety). The study by Oceana focused on swapping lower quality fish in place of a high quality fish. Oceana states that this type of swapping hurts our oceans, rips customers off and can ultimately lead to sickness and emergency situations for consumers. The most recent investigation by Oceana focused on fish products sold in grocery stores and consumed in restaurants and sushi venues in the New York City area.
Oceana found that 39% of the 142 fish products collected from these places were mislabeled. 58% of the 81 retail locations studied sold mislabeled fish products. From these retails locations, smaller markets had significantly higher levels of fraud, at 40%, compared to national chains at 12%. However, both independent and national grocery stores were guilty of mislabeling fish products, thereby misleading their consumers. Another disturbing fact that was found by Oceana was that 100% of the 16 sushi bars that were tested sold mislabeled fish products.
While you may want to believe that this mislabeling problem is localized to New York, it’s not, the problem is nationwide. Previous research by Oceana also found high levels of mislabeled fish products in Boston (48%), Los Angeles (55%), and in Miami (31%).
Mislabeling of fish product not only misrepresents the product that consumers are purchasing and consuming, it also has the potential to lead to sickness of unsuspecting consumers. Oceana found that 94% of the white tuna that was sold was actually escolar. Escolar is a type of snake mackerel that has a toxin that can lead to gastrointestinal sickness. Another significant finding was that 13 different types of fish were sold as red snapper. Tilefish was one of the species that was sold as red snapper. Tilefish is on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) do-not- eat list for pregnant and nursing mothers as well as children due to its’ high level of mercury content. This mislabeling poses a risk for mothers that are trying to limit their exposure to heavy metals.
Mislabeling of fish products is not only deceitful, it is also potentially deadly. A significant cause for concern with mislabeled fish products is that seafood products are a top allergen for many individuals. Sickness that is related to allergens is often species specific; therefore, the swapping of one species for another can lead to a dangerous, emergency situation for certain individuals. For example, if a person is allergic to perch and they think they are buying red snapper they wouldn’t expect to run into a problem. However, perch is often substituted in place of red snapper, leading to a potential emergency if it’s consumed by the wrong person.
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It is vital that fish products be labelled and represented accurately to consumers in order to avoid sickness and emergency situations due to allergic reactions. According to the FDA, if you want to reduce your risk of sickness from mislabeled fish products, make sure that you buy from a reputable company and be wary of exceptionally low prices.