andrew schneider investigates

August 22, 2008

Caveat emptor fish lovers

Filed under: Food - good, bad, weird,Food labeling,Random observations — Andrew Schneider @ 10:57

Two really smart teenagers used DNA testing on fish purchased at New York City restaurants and markets and found that people weren’t getting what they paid for.

The young women – Kate Stoeckle and Louisa Strauss � collected 60 samples of seafood from four restaurants and 10 grocery stores in Manhattan.

Their field technique was simple, Stoeckle said. “We ate a lot of sushi.”

The high-tech sleuths sent their samples, which they’d preserved in alcohol, to Eugene Wong, a graduate student at Ontario’s University of Guelph. Wong, who works on a project called the “Barcode of Life Database, ” which contains the DNA of about 5,500 fish species, agreed to analyze the fish.

“Three hundred dollars’ worth of meals later, the young researchers had their data back from Guelph: 2 of the 4 restaurants and 6 of the 10 grocery stores had sold mislabeled fish,” the New York Times reported.

“A piece of sushi sold as the luxury treat white tuna turned out to be Mozambique tilapia, a much cheaper fish that is often raised by farming. Roe supposedly from flying fish was actually from smelt. Seven of nine samples that were called red snapper were mislabeled, and they turned out to be anything from Atlantic cod to Acadian redfish, an endangered species,” wrote Times reporter John Schwartz.

The two the neophyte food scientists begin as freshmen at Johns Hopkins University this fall and their research is being published in the Seattle-based Pacific Fishing magazine, a publication for commercial fishermen.

I tried to reach editor Don McManman to chat with him about it, but couldn’t contact him.

There is not much to be immediately gained by concerned diners taking their DNA test kits to dinner with them.

Also, before they start attacking their favorite chef or fishmonger, they should remember that the scam to mislabel inexpensive or lower quality fish could happen anywhere along the long food supply line. Although, I’d like to think our food professionals were a bit more attentive to what they serve.


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