Scientists Develop Handheld Fish Fraud Sensor

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A group of scientists are working together to create a portable device that empowers consumers to fight fish fraud

Fish fraud is a real problem many consumers probably aren’t even aware of. In 2011, a study showed 20% to 32% of seafood imported to the United States is fraudulently labeled. This costs consumers roughly $1.3 to $2.1 billion annually.

Scientists in this study focused on grouper, simply because demand outweighs supply in the United States. This dynamic is made even more complicated because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows 64 different species to be labeled grouper.

So how do you know if you’re really getting grouper? The new portable gadget called the QuadPyre RT-NASBA will tell you.

How the QuadPyre RT-NASBA works to detect fish fraud

The gadget works by using a form of RNA analysis, also referred to as real-time nucleic acid sequence-based amplification. The project’s co-author and biological oceanographer John Paul explained that using the handheld device could work at the point of purchase and requires less than 45 minutes to complete. This technology is a big breakthrough, considering that in the past, the assay procedure could take hours or days to identify samples.The team says their device is accurate enough to use on cooked fish, even if it is fried or covered in sauce.

The handy gadget will soon be released to the public under the name of the GrouperChek by PureMolecular, LLC. The company is a spinoff from USF. We can expect subsequent technology products for checking other commercial seafood as well. Two years ago, a report from Ocean showed that grouper is commonly labeled wrong 19% to 38% of the time. Other fish species commonly mislabeled include wild salmon, Atlantic cod and red snapper.

Fish fraud’s negative impact on the economy

Robert Ulrich, the project’s lead author and a graduate of the College of Marine Science, added that grouper fraud is a problem that’s prevalent in Florida. Grouper is the third most economically valued fish in the whole state. There are also commercial quotas for catches. Ulrich explained that the super high demand cannot rely on catches alone.

Paul also said federal and local governments are behind in establishing laws to protect U.S. consumers from fish fraud. Fortunately, that is about to change as a seafood safety bill was recently introduced. There are similar bills in the states of Massachusetts and Maryland.

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