Strict rules govern fish preservation
I've noticed stores selling "fresh" fish that are treated with carbon monoxide putting up notices informing consumers of the treated fish. Has this become a law where sellers of fresh fish that have been treated must notify customers, or are they just doing it out of courtesy?
Answer: First, fish cannot be labeled "fresh" or "fresh frozen" if it was processed either with carbon monoxide or "tasteless smoke," according to the state Department of Health's Food and Drug Branch.
Second, the labeling requirements are not new.
In addition to requiring that any fish treated by either of the two processes be labeled accordingly, the label also must use common names -- e.g. carbon monoxide instead of CO, said Lance Wong, supervisor of the Food and Drug Branch.
There might be more attention and awareness on the subject these days because of recent reports of "gas-treated meats, including ground beef; more demand by better-educated and diet-conscious consumers to eat fish; and more demand by the industry to provide fish to the consumer," he said.
He explained that in May 1999 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an import bulletin and a letter to Hawaii seafood processors and importers regarding the use of carbon monoxide and "tasteless gas" to preserve imported tuna and other seafood.
At that time the two processes were becoming more prevalent in the industry, and "the FDA was concerned about possible unscrupulous manufacturers taking 'old' fish and treating it with carbon monoxide and making it appear 'fresh,'" Wong said.
Meanwhile, there also was pressure from the fresh-seafood industry, which was concerned that the public would buy the cheaper treated fish and not realize that it was not fresh, he said.
While the FDA regulates the importation of such products, the state enforces the same regulations at the wholesale and retail levels, Wong said.
For consumers, he passed on these things to look for on a label:
» When a product is sold in a packaged form, the label must state the name of the product; what it has been treated with by its common name; and the reason for the treatment, e.g., "ahi tuna, carbon monoxide (preservative to promote color retention)," or "tilapia, tasteless smoke (preservative to promote color retention)."
» If fish is sold in bulk, such as in poke, a counter sign or placard must be placed next to the product, with the required labeling information, e.g., "Tombo preserved with carbon monoxide to promote color retention."
» If the fish was previously frozen, it must state that on a label or placard.
» If the original container says fish was "CO treated," the label must state "carbon monoxide treated" and not "tasteless smoke treated," because the two terms are not interchangeable and are different chemical processes.
For any questions or concerns, call the Food and Drug Branch at 586-4725.
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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