A recent study conducted by the ocean conservation group, Oceana, found that many varieties of seafood sold in restaurants and grocery stores in Palm Beach County may be intentionally mislabeled. As reported by The Palm Beach Post on July 27, DNA testing confirmed that almost one-third of nearly 100 seafood samples collected from 60 area retail outlets were not the type of fish indicated on the menu or label. In most cases, a less desirable, less expensive fish was substituted for a rarer, pricier fish.
According to the article, the Oceana researchers collected 40 samples from 29 grocery stores and 56 samples from 31 restaurants, including 15 sushi venues, throughout south Florida. After DNA testing was completed, the researchers concluded:
Fraud was detected in half of the 14 different types of fish collected
The highest fraud rates were found in sushi restaurants, where nearly 60% of the samples were mislabeled
Grocery stores had the lowest fraud rates at 8%
In six of the seven samples tested, red snapper was misrepresented, with tilapia or another less expensive variety of snapper, such as dog snapper, used as substitutes
100% of white tuna was mislabeled
Crab meat advertised as “real” crab meat was found to be fake crab meat 64 % of the time
16% of grouper was mislabeled, with king mackerel or Asian catfish often used as substitutes
According to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, 1,317 restaurants in Florida have been cited for seafood fraud since 2006. In Palm Beach County, inspectors have found 115 restaurants serving mislabeled seafood.
Beyond financial deception, mislabeled seafood can pose severe health risks to consumers. For example, the study found that white tuna was mislabeled 100% of the time in south Florida restaurants. In most cases, the fish was actually escolar, which is banned in Japan and Italy and assigned warnings by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because of toxins that cause gastric effects. Also dangerous, king mackerel (a common grouper substitute) carries a “Do Not Eat” warning for young children and pregnant and nursing women. And for people with allergies, eating the wrong fish can always cause serious health problems.
Businesses and individuals that knowingly introduce dangerous products to the consuming public may be liable for resulting injuries. Consumers harmed because of mislabeled seafood may have personal injury claims against retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, distributors, processing and packaging plants, and others along the seafood supply chain.
If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of consumer fraud, please contact the personal injury lawyers at Fetterman & Associates for a free initial consultation. We serve Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties in southeast Florida.
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