Tag Archives: seafood fraud

Steven Guterman, InstantLabs
In the Food Lab

Save Seafood with Digital Tracking

By Steven Guterman, Sarah McMullin, Steve Phelan
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Steven Guterman, InstantLabs

The combination of improved digital tracking along the food supply chain, as well as fast, accurate DNA testing will provide modern, state-of-the-art tools essential to guarantee accurate labeling for the ever-increasing quantities of foods and ingredients shipped globally.

The sheer scale of the international food supply chain creates opportunities for unscrupulous parties to substitute cheaper products with false labels. We know fraud is obviously a part of the problem. Some suppliers and distributors engage in economically motivated substitution. That is certain.

It’s equally true, however, that some seafood misidentification is inadvertent. In fact, some species identification challenges are inevitable, particularly at the end of the chain after processing. We believe most providers want to act in an ethical manner.

Virtually all seafood fraud involves the falsification or manipulation of documents created to guarantee that the label on the outside of the box matches the seafood on the inside. Unfortunately, the documents are too often vague, misleading or deliberately fraudulent.

Oceana, an international non-profit focused solely on protecting oceans and ocean resources, has published extensively on seafood fraud and continues to educate the public and government through science-based campaigns.

Seafood fraud is not just an economic issue. If the product source is unknown, it is possible to introduce harmful contamination into the food supply. By deploying two actions simultaneously, we can help address this problem and reduce mistakes and mishandling:

  • Improved digital tracking technologies deployed along the supply chain
  • Faster, DNA-based in-house testing to generate results in hours

Strategic collaborations can help industry respond to broad challenges such as seafood fraud. We partner with the University of Guelph to develop DNA-based tests for quick and accurate species identification. The accuracy and portability produced by this partnership allow companies to deploy tests conveniently at many points in the supply chain and get accurate species identification results in hours.

Our new collaboration with SAP, the largest global enterprise digital partner in the world, will help ensure that test results can be integrated with a company’s supply chain data for instant visibility and action throughout the enterprise. In fact, SAP provides enterprise-level software to customers who distribute 78% of the world’s food and accordingly its supply chain validation features have earned global acceptance.

The food fraud and safety digital tracking innovations being developed by SAP will be critical in attacking fraud. Linking paper documents with definitive test results at all points in the supply chain is no longer a realistic solution. Paper trails in use today do not go far enough. Product volume has rendered paper unworkable. Frustrated retailers voice concerns that their customers believe they are doing more testing and validation than they can actually undertake.

We must generate more reliable data and make it available everywhere in seconds in order to protect and strengthen the global seafood supply chain.

Catfish will become the first seafood species to be covered by United States regulations as a result of recent Congressional legislation. This change will immediately challenge the capability of supply chain accuracy. Catfish are but one species among thousands.

Increasingly, researchers and academics in the food industry recognize fast and reliable in-house and on-site testing as the most effective method to resolve the challenges of seafood authentication.

DNA-based analyses have proven repeatedly to be the most effective process to ensure accurate species identification across all food products. Unfortunately, verifying a species using DNA sequencing techniques typically takes one to two weeks to go from sample to result. With many products, and especially with seafood, speed on the production line is essential. In many cases, waiting two weeks for results is just not an acceptable solution.

Furthermore, “dipstick” or lateral-flow tests may work on unprocessed food at the species level, however, DNA testing provides the only accurate test method to differentiate species and sub-species in both raw and processed foods.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which analyzes the sample DNA, can provide accurate results in two to three hours, which in turn enhances the confidence of producers, wholesalers and retailers in the products they sell and minimizes their risk of recalls and brand damage.

New technology eliminates multi-day delays for test results that slow down the process unnecessarily. Traditional testing options require sending samples to commercial laboratories that usually require weeks to return results. These delays can be expensive and cumbersome. Worse, they may prevent fast, accurate testing to monitor problems before they reach a retail environment, where brand and reputational risk are higher.

Rapid DNA-based testing conducted in-house and supported by sophisticated digital tracking technologies will improve seafood identification with the seafood supply chain. This technological combination will improve our global food chain and allow us to do business with safety and confidence in the accuracy and reliability of seafood shipments.

Mislabeled Salmon

Are Those Filets Real? Mislabeling of Wild Salmon Continues

By Maria Fontanazza
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Mislabeled Salmon

Full traceability throughout the entire seafood supply chain is recommended following a study released yesterday by Oceana involving the mislabeling of salmon. The organization found that 43% of samples taken from restaurants and grocery stores were mislabeled, with DNA testing uncovering that 69% of mislabeling involved farmed Atlantic salmon that was labeled and sold as wild-caught salmon. According to Oceana, the report is the largest salmon mislabeling study in the United States yet.

“The federal government should provide consumers with assurances that the seafood they purchase is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled,” said Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana in a press release. “Traceability needs to be required for all seafood to ensure important information about which species it is, whether it was farmed or wild caught, and how and where it was caught follows all seafood from boat (or farm) to plate.”

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Oceana combined a nationwide study of 384 samples with a winter survey of 82 samples to learn whether there was a correlation between time and location. Findings revealed that the majority of the mislabeling in restaurants occurred when the fish was out of season. In addition, high rates of mislabeling were found on the East coast—37% in New York City, 45% in Washington, DC, and 48% in Virginia. It is important to note that the 43% of the samples deemed mislabeled derived from the smaller winter survey.

Samples were considered mislabeled if:

  • Described as wild, Pacific, or Alaska and DNA testing proved them to be farmed Atlantic salmon
  • Labeled as a specific type of salmon but testing proved them to be a different species

In the report Oceana takes issue with FDA’s guidance on seafood naming, calling it “neither clear nor consistent”, along with Country of Origin Labeling for seafood. The organization urges the Presidential Task Force on fish and seafood fraud (established last year) to set forth a requirement that all seafood sold domestically have documentation proving it came from a legal source, along with full supply chain traceability. The task force released its final action plan in March, but Oceana is asking that the group expand documentation requirements as a market access condition. Oceana’s full report provides a breakdown of its investigation.

Lab technicians use the Hunter device during a test process. InstantLabs manufactures the Hunter system as well as test kits for food pathogens and species identification such as the catfish testing commercialization agreement outlined with the FDA.

New Catfish Test Catches Mislabeling Faster

By Maria Fontanazza
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Lab technicians use the Hunter device during a test process. InstantLabs manufactures the Hunter system as well as test kits for food pathogens and species identification such as the catfish testing commercialization agreement outlined with the FDA.

As Americans seek to make healthier choices, seafood is becoming more popular than ever before. In fact, U.S. consumers eat 50% more seafood now than they did 50 years ago and spend $80 billion annually on creatures from the sea, according to Oceana. Coupled with the increasing popularity is the growing problem of seafood fraud and mislabeled imports. Oceana’s study in 2013 performed DNA testing on seafood samples taken around the United States and found that nearly 33% of those samples were mislabeled.

FDA has made a significant investment in DNA sequencing to improve its ability to detect misrepresented seafood species in interstate commerce and from other countries. “The Agency has trained and equipped eight field laboratories across the country to perform DNA testing as a matter of course for suspected cases of misbranding and for illness outbreaks due to finfish seafood, where the product’s identity needs to be confirmed,” stated Steven M. Solomon, deputy associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at FDA, before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship in May. “FDA also trained analysts from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the National Marine Fisheries Service in its new DNA-based species identification methodology.”

With some of the most common seafood choices including white fish varieties like tilapia and catfish, DNA-based testing plays a critical role in detecting mislabeling of species.  If you’re a knowledge seafood person and you get a whole fish, there’s a high likelihood you can identify it correctly,” says Steven Guterman, CEO of InstantLabs. “However, once that fish has been filleted—let’s call it a white fish—it’s almost impossible for anyone to visually correctly identify that fish. That’s where the DNA testing comes into play.”

Lab technicians use the Hunter device during a test process. InstantLabs manufactures the Hunter system as well as test kits for food pathogens and species identification such as the catfish testing commercialization agreement outlined with the FDA.
Lab technicians use the Hunter device during a test process. InstantLabs manufactures the Hunter system as well as test kits for food pathogens and species identification such as the catfish testing commercialization agreement outlined with the FDA.

InstantLabs offers a series of DNA-based seafood tests for species identification. Last week the company announced a partnership with FDA to co-develop and commercialize a new Ictalurid catfish species identification test that enables much faster sequencing of samples and at a lower cost. “I think everyone is recognizing that the current method industry uses for validation, which is to take a sample and send it out to a lab for sequencing, just takes too long,” says Guterman. There is a typical time lag of about one to two weeks from taking a sample to getting a result.

The Hunter System is a real-time PCR instrument that delivers results in a much shorter period of time. “Switching from a sequencing test to a PCR test where you’re looking for a specific target DNA and getting results on site in two hours, or in a laboratory within a day, changes the way the industry operates,” says Guterman. “It enables better enforcement, and government regulators and suppliers can do validation in a way that’s not disruptive to their normal course of business.”

FDA and InstantLabs began talking about the technology about a year ago, as both have worked closely with the University of Guelph, according to Guterman. FDA was looking for a company that would be able to commercialize a test kit for U.S. catfish, and the new partnership is part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the agency. U.S. Farm Bill legislation states that only members of the Ictaluridae family can be legally marketed as catfish within the United States.

The FDA-InstantLabs CRADA collaboration will help ensure the integrity of labeling related to U.S. catfish. The Pangasiidae species, which hails from Southeast Asia, has been increasingly mislabeled as U.S. catfish. This is not only a concern from a cost standpoint but also a safety perspective, as FDA has detected toxins in catfish that come from Asia.