A new study was recently released, reaffirming something those of us who work on food fraud have known for a while: adulteration and food fraud is rampant, especially in the most vulnerable products. This most recent study addresses fish products sold in the D.C. metropolitan area, NCL’s backyard. The study found that one-third of seafood sold in both restaurants and grocery stores is mislabeled as a different type of fish. For some types of fish, like snapper, as much as 87 percent of the fish sold nationwide may be mislabeled.
The motivation for mislabeling fish is the same as the motive for any food fraud: economic profit. Whenever a cheaper product can be sold in place of a more expensive one, this increases the potential profit margin for the producer. Unfortunately, economically motivated adulteration can hurt consumers. First and most obviously, customers are not getting what they paid for. Secondly, when products are adulterated, consumers are unaware of what they are consuming and thus cannot avoid ingredients that they do not want to consume. This is particularly harmful when these ingredients are allergens. Finally, one major concern revolves around food safety. If a producer is breaking the law by substituting products, it is certainly possible that they are cutting corners in other areas. In particular, they may not be following the most up-to-date food safety practices.
Unfortunately for consumers, identifying when a product has been adulterated is very difficult. Prices that seem too good to be true can be one indicator that a product isn’t what it claims to be. Beyond that, consumers who are concerned about this issue should let the FDA know that enforcement and testing should be a high priority.