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SCHENECTADY, NY -- Is the seafood you're buying what the label, sign or menu says it is?
Concern is growing nationwide that restaurants, seafood markets and even some supermarkets are selling mislabeled seafood. Consumer Reports found that 18% of seafood samples its researchers collected from retail stores and restaurants on the East Coast last year were mislabeled (December 2011 -- http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2011/december/food/fake-fish/overview/index.htm). And, a recent Boston Globe investigation found that 48% of the fish collected from Boston restaurants, seafood markets and grocery stores was sold with the wrong species name (October 23, 2011 -- http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2011/10/23/onthemenubutnotonyour_plate/?page=full).
To provide verifiable assurances for its customers, Price Chopper Supermarkets commissioned a voluntary test of its seafood stock. The objective report's conclusion confirmed that 100% of the fish tested was properly labeled.
Verification is being provided by Therion International, a company based in Saratoga Springs, NY, to which Price Chopper voluntarily submitted more than 150 randomly-selected samples from 15 different fish product lines for testing. In 2004, Therion was the first commercial laboratory to provide DNA-based testing services to verify seafood species identity. Past and present customers have included Bonefish Grill, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Oceana, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun Times and many others.
"Price Chopper came to us to develop a testing protocol to help them reassure their customers about their labeling and the quality of their seafood," said William F. Gergits, managing member of Therion International. "Our tests found not one incidence of mislabeling."
Therion employs a DNA testing protocol that examines the DNA code (or sequence) of portions of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). All individuals within a given species will share the same mtDNA genetic code. Therion randomly selected fish from the Price Chopper warehouse (in Rotterdam, NY) to conduct the study at their laboratory in the ISES/INVEST incubator facility of Russell Sage College, Troy, NY.
Other studies (of both restaurants and retail food merchants) have found that red snapper and white tuna were among the most commonly mislabeled seafood. Both were tested in the Price Chopper study and were found to be labeled appropriately. News reports cite one of the most common reasons that restaurants, wholesalers, and retailers mislabel seafood is simply to make more money – it is more profitable to sell a less expensive fish for one that could cost significantly more, especially if consumers may not notice the difference.
"Our purpose in commissioning a course of scientifically reliable DNA testing on our seafood in addition to our own internal control procedures, is to provide quality assurances to our customers beyond those offered by other purveyors," said Lee E. French, Price Chopper's vice president of seafood. "Our customers already know that they can count on us for seafood variety, freshness, and even meal preparations – we fry or steam any seafood purchase free of charge – all of which can be physically seen and tasted. Being able to verify the various species of fish that we carry, in much the same way that we document the sustainability of our sourcing, speaks to our philosophical position, as it offers our customers a well-deserved additional peace of mind," he added
"As with our commitment not to add any water or salt to our fresh meat, our comprehensive recall system that utilizes Price Chopper AdvantEdge card data to notify customers about recalls on any products they may have purchased, and our policy never to add fillers or additives to our fresh ground beef, our voluntarily commission of DNA testing on our seafood products clarifies the paramount importance that Price Chopper continues to place on consumer advocacy," said Mona Golub, vice president of public relations and consumer and marketing services.
Price Chopper will hold a live chat to discuss the Seafood DNA testing announcement on its Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/PriceChopper) on Wednesday, October 24th from 12-1pm. The chat will feature Lee French, Price Chopper's Vice President of seafood and William F. Gergits, managing member of Therion International.