Sushi mislabeling is pervasive, but intentional frauds are much less common. This is the conclusion of a team of researchers studying fraud in Los Angeles sushi restaurants.
The Los Angeles Seafood Monitoring Project team, which includes researchers, students, sushi restaurants and government authorities, is working to reduce sushi fraud and mislabelling fish.
Since April, scientists together with 80 UCLA students and many others from Loyola Marymount University and Cal State University in Los Angeles, buy small pieces of sushi from 10 restaurants each month. Back in the laboratory, they extract the DNA and analyze the fish.
Researchers then study DNA to distinguish one species of fish from one another using DNA barcode.
The team's conclusion: "Sushi mislabeling is pervasive, intentional fraud is much less common," said Paul Barber, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA and senior author of an article on the project published in the journal Frontiers in ecology and environment. "If we can solve the wrong labeling problems, then we can concentrate on intentional fraud".
Why is the sushi on your plate badly labeled? A primary factor is a discrepancy between the federal regulations on the Food and Drug Administration and the biological reality, said Barber, who cited this example:
"The yellow tail has six species: the FDA says it can be called" yellow tail "and the other five must be called amberjack," said Barber. "In Japan, each of these six species of yellow tail prepared by sushi chefs is sold under a different name: these fish vary in taste and cost, in the United States, the FDA says that five of these must be sold with only one name is the equivalent of saying we know there are Toyotas, Honda, Nissan, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and BMW, but you can only call Toyota or Toyota.
"It's actually impossible for sushi restaurants to correctly identify fish that are used for a number of species of fish using the limited names recognized by the FDA," Barber said.
Another example is red snapper. Often, what is sold is a fish called red sea bream, said lead author Demian Willette.
Researchers are working with the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in Los Angeles, which runs FDA's seafood guidelines that follow restaurants. They have already drafted recommendations for yellowtail labeling.