“Fish fraud” has long been an issue at sushi restaurants around the country. It turns out you never know quite what you’re getting when you order that red snapper – unless you’re running a DNA test on it.
Last month, Canadian biology professor Dr. Jennifer McDonald from Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, Canada had her students perform a unique laboratory assignment in order to investigate what they were really eating when they ordered fish at their favorite sushi restaurants and grocery stores.
Her students brought in small samples of their dinners so they could perform DNA extractions and analyses on the fish to see if they matched up to the menus and labels.
McDonald knew many of the samples were likely to be frauds. A 2017 study from UCLA showed that 47% of restaurant fish in L.A.-area restaurants were mislabeled on menus.
It’s unclear whether restaurants purposely mislabel items or if they too are being duped as well by fish sellers.
What we do know is that fish fraud is rampant and McDonald and her students’ DNA results added yet more proof.
She described her experiment and results on her Twitter account:
By sequencing a specific part of each sample’s genome, students could compare their results with the known genetic sequences of the fish they thought they were eating. But in the end, most of those sequences didn’t match up, meaning that the fish they ordered was really something else.
Thankfully, in most cases, it was just a different type of fish.
Not only were some of the restaurant samples the wrong type of fish, but even fish brought in from the grocery store had been labeled incorrectly!
Unfortunately, that’s not the worst part.
The most shocking (and vile) results came from a sample taken from a local grocery store’s “fresh” seafood department.
Well, it was fish. But it turns out that it was so riddled with lice that the DNA sequence showed more louse DNA than fish DNA!
That’s probably not a common occurrence, but it should certainly make us all think twice about where we get our food and the kinds of questions we ask before purchasing it!
Even when fish are mislabeled instead of rotten, mistakes can lead to health issues.
McDonald told Bored Panda that food allergies are the most serious health risk when it comes to mislabeling, especially in cases where someone is unknowingly served shellfish – those allergies can be severe enough to cause death.
In an interview with the London Free Press, she also said she wasn’t sure if restaurant owners were aware they were often serving the wrong fish.
“‘I think it’s more likely that (the misidentification is happening) somewhere in the supply chain,’ between the ocean and the point of consumption…”
It appears that fish-lovers will need to be a lot more careful if they want to get what they order/pay for!
And for those who don’t eat sushi and think they’re safe, it’s worth knowing that food fraud goes well beyond fish – in fact, it’s a $50 billion dollar industry worldwide!
That fancy cheese, expensive olive oil, fine tea, or hunk of perfectly marbled beef you’re enjoying? That too could be fraudulent.
Of course, we can’t all keep DNA sequencers in our kitchens to test our food and even McDonald said her experiment wouldn’t keep her from enjoying her favorite foods, including sushi. She just plans to be much more careful from now on:
“I will be much more discerning in the fish I buy at the grocery store, to look for sustainable fishing certification on the label. This increases the likelihood that you’ll get fish you can trust to be what the box or label says it is, and you can also be playing a role in helping make the fishing industry more sustainable. Look for the MSC logo on your food to know if it’s certified sustainable or not.”
While science doesn’t always give us the news we want to hear, it certainly opens our eyes to things we need to know.
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