Gotcha Carolina Style

Investigative reporting on species substitution in restaurants always makes for an interesting story. Reporter visits several area restaurants, orders a fish dish (typically grouper, snapper or some type of sashimi) from each restaurant, sends samples to a lab for DNA testing (almost always includes some type of action shot of the reporter putting teeny samples of fish in test tubes), and surprise!, some sample results come back indicating a fish switch passing off a less valued fish for the one on the menu. Gotcha. The story will then end with a 60-minutes-style interview of the restaurant owner and/or an outraged consumer. Finger pointing may happen, but you know what the consumer doesnt care whos at fault.

Two recent installments of the species substitution Gotcha story are from the Carolinas WMBF News in Myrtle Beach and WECT News in Wilmington. Take a look.

Honestly Presented

Did you know that the FDA Food Code has a provision that says that species substitution is against the rules? Well apparently this is not very clearly stated in the Food Code because we frequently see instances of fish switch. (Like here, here, and here.) That is why the BSB requested that a simple sentence be added to the Food Code that would clarify that fish sold to the consumer needs to be identified by the proper market name or common scientific name as identified in FDAs Seafood List. The request was considered at the Conference for Food Protection meeting here in Providence, Rhode Island and it was determined that the issue of species substitution is already adequately addressed in the Food Code so no changes are needed. Confirmation that calling a fish any old name that sounds good violates the Food Code is good news.

Here is the actual language from the code:

3-601.12 Honestly Presented

(A) Food shall be offered for human consumption in a way that does not mislead or misinform the consumer.

So what does honestly presented really mean? The State of Florida does a good job of expanding what is in Food Code to some government language that is clear:

An operator may not knowingly and willfully misrepresent the identity of any food or food product to any of the patrons of such establishment. The identity of food or a food product is misrepresented if:

  • The description of the food or food product is false or misleading in any particular;
  • The food or food product is served, sold, or distributed under the name of another food or food product; or,
  • The food or food product purports to be or is represented as a food or food product that does not conform to a definition of identify and standard of quality if such definition of identity and standard of quality has been established by custom and usage.

So here is what honestly presented means to the BSB.

  • A fish called the name of another species is not honestly presented and violates the Food Code.
  • Fish that was frozen, thawed out before presented for sale without indicating it has been previously frozen is not honestly presented and violates the Food Code.
  • Frozen tuna steaks that have been treated with CO to preserve the color and labeled as being treated with filtered wood smoke are not honestly presented and violate the Food Code.
  • Frozen tilapia that has been treated with CO to preserve the color and CO is not included in the ingredient statement is not honestly presented and violates the Food Code.
  • Farm-raised atlantic salmon that is being passed off as wild-captured pacific salmon is not honestly presented and violates the Food Code.
  • Shrimp that is imported from one country but identified as product of the US or of another country is not honestly presented and violates the Food Code.
  • Crab flavored seafood, made with surimi, a fully cooked fish protein that is sold as crab is not honestly presented and violates the Food Code.

Did we miss any?