I-Team: When you buy seafood, you don't always get what you ordered
Four restaurants fail our test
Jason Law, Jason.Law@wcpo.com
10:00 PM, Jun 27, 2013
10:06 AM, Jul 2, 2013
CINCINNATI - Seafood lovers out there: How do you know you're really getting what you order from a restaurant or a market?
You order red snapper but you're served Tilapia. Or you buy grouper and you get king mackerel.
This happens more often than you may think. Oceana conducted a massive study on fish mislabeling between 2010 and 2012, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retailers across the country. DNA testing found that about one-third of the samples were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
The I-Team put Cincinnati restaurants and grocery stores to the test.
We purchased a variety of samples from 15 local retailers and sent them to be DNA-tested by the same lab used by Oceana, at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
Grilled Snapper from Washington Platform was determined to be Iridescent Shark, a species of Shark Catfish. Washington Platform owner Jon Diebold told the I-Team, "Due to market availability of fresh fish stock, it is sometimes necessary to substitute alternate fish types, of similar characteristics, with some menu items. We use 'top of the line,' wholesome products, from approved sources, at all times."
Pacific Cod from Mitchell's Fish Market turned out to be Atlantic Cod. According to Mitchell's, "Once discovered, we took immediate action to correct this and all of our cod is properly listed as Atlantic."
Chilean Sea Bass from the Fresh Market and Bonefish Grill was found to be a close relative, the Antarctic Toothfish. "These two species have overlapping distributions and could be a simple clerical error by the fisherman," said Dr. Tyler Zemlak, Director of Business Development for the CCDB.
Bonefish Grill released this statement to the I-Team: "We unknowingly received Antarctic Toothfish, a close relative of the Patagonian Toothfish, from our vendor. The vendor was initially unaware of the error, but upon checking their records more thoroughly – at our request – realized that they sent us Antarctic Toothfish. The vendor assures us this will not happen again. Bonefish Grill specifies the use of Patagonian Toothfish, which the FDA approves to be labeled as Chilean Sea Bass. We would never knowingly misrepresent a species of fish on our menu."
If fish mislabeling bothers you, remember it may not be the retailer's fault. Oceana says without stricter oversight and inspections, it's almost impossible to determine where along the seafood chain the mislabeling takes place, whether it's on the boat, on the docks or in the kitchen.
Dr. Kimberly Warner co-authored the three-year-long study and offered advice on what seafood customers can do to protect themselves.
"You can speak up. We had over 500 chefs sign a petition asking for traceable seafood. Talk to the waiter. Talk to the chefs. Ask, 'Are you sure this is the fish that I'm ordering?' At the store you can ask questions of the people who are selling the seafood.
"Some restaurants and some grocers are starting to sell traceable seafood. If the consumer asks for this, the industry will respond and so will the government, I believe," Warner said.