Applied Food Technologies: Identifying Mislabeled Seafood

The mislabeling of seafood is a growing health concern and current hot topic in the media. One of Larta’s current USDA-CATP participants, Applied Food Technologies, offers a solution to this problem through their testing product that accurately identifies fish species. With fish becoming a more significant part of the average American diet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state agencies are focusing on the issue of regulation of seafood available for consumption. A large-scale investigation into fish labeling by the nonprofit conservation group, Oceana, genetically tested over 1,200 samples of fish from 674 retail outlets including restaurants, sushi venues, and fish markets across 21 states over a period of 2 years. DNA testing found that on average, one-third (33 percent) of the samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled according to FDA guidelines. Shockingly, fish from EVERY sampled sushi venue in New York City and Washington D.C. were mislabeled. Even in cities with the lowest mislabeling rates, one in five fish samples was wrongly labeled.

Aside from the issue of consumers being defrauded in their seafood purchases, there are serious health concerns surrounding the mislabeled fish being served to customers. The study revealed the fairly high possibility that consumers order tuna, and end up eating escolar, a fish that can cause serious digestive issues when more than a few ounces are consumed. In addition, fish species high in mercury content was routinely sold as halibut or red snapper. Unfortunately, this issue is challenging for consumers to recognize given the fact that identifying what kind of fish you are about to eat is not as simple as looking at what’s on your plate. It is quite difficult to tell what species of marine life you are selling or consuming simply by looking at it.

Applied Food Technologies (AFT), a current Larta USDA- CATP participant, specializes in seafood species identification and verification. AFT offers the only DNA-based species identification service for seafood which meets FDA and other regulatory agencies' standards. Their technology assists the FDA and state agencies in their pursuit of a better regulated system to ensure more transparency and safety within the seafood industry. Widespread adoption of accurate testing technologies, like AFT’s, will improve food safety by preventing commercial consumption of mislabeled fish which could potentially have serious health risks. In addition, this will help consumers feel confident that their local restaurants and markets are actually selling what is advertised. You can learn more about AFT and their species identification tests here.