GREENSBORO, N.C. - Before you grill up that next piece of fish, know what you're about to eat. North Carolina chemical lab Appealing Products developed food poison detection kits for the Department of Defense - uncovering something surprising in the process: formaldehyde in some frozen fish.
Some fish have small amounts of formaldehyde naturally. But the lab says those natural levels are so low, they should not show up on their test. Turns out, manufactures in other countries also sometimes add formaldehyde to make the fish last longer.
2 Wants To Know what the chance are of formaldehyde ending up on your dinner plate. The lab sells their tests for at home use
– with an instruction video online. But 2 Wants To Know wanted to make sure we followed directions exactly. So we went in person to get training on how to do the test.
Then back in the WFMY News 2 kitchen we swabbed 15 frozen white-fish brands bought from local grocery stores. Four of the 15 tested positive for formaldehyde.
Just to make sure it wasn't an isolated issue with the one bag, 2 Wants To Know bought another bag of those four brands from a different store location. Again, all four pieces of fish tested positive for formaldehyde:
Walmart's Cod Fillets from China
The Fishin' Company's Wild Islandic Haddock
The GREAT Fish Co.'s Whiting Fillets from Ecuador
And Harris Teeter's Wild Alaska Pacific Cod
2 Wants To Know e-mailed the manufactures and called multiple times over more than a week.
Harris Teeter responded:
"The safety of the products sold at our stores is our highest priority. Our Seafood and Quality Assurance teams work closely with our suppliers, manufacturers, various industry trade associations as well as the FDA and USDA to ensure the products we sell comply with all food safety regulations. We also work with these organizations to make sure that we properly educate, share facts and correct misinformation reported in the media. Consumers expect a safe food supply, and we are dedicated to providing our consumers with high quality products and competitive prices. All Harris Teeter seafood is harvested, packed, shipped, received, and stored following FDA's Seafood HACCP Regulation. Our cod are harvested in Alaska and processed in either Alaska or Seattle. No additives or preservatives are added. As I'm sure you've found through your research, formaldehyde is a naturally occurring compound that can form during frozen fish storage. Finding trace amounts of this compound in a sample does not mean it is being used as an additive. This naturally occurring compound presence can also be found on other animal products such as beef, poultry, pork. From the website you provided as well as the reported example results you shared, it appears the methodology used for your investigation is a qualitative test; therefore, it is not a surprise that the test picked up a "positive" of this naturally occurring compound. For an experiment such as this, when measuring a naturally occurring compound, experts would suggest a quantitative test using AOAC methodology as a more fitting approach. The health and well-being of our customers will always be a top priority for Harris Teeter."
The Fishin' Company thanked us for doing the story and saying it would do its own testing because of our findings.
And Walmart wrote:
"Walmart requires our seafood suppliers to achieve certification against internationally recognized food safety standards before it is released into our stores. All cod provided by the supplier is inspected by the U.S. Department of Commerce. At this time no documentation has been made available that verifies the swabs used in this test have been validated by any U.S. government agency or internationally recognized scientific organizations."
But FDA researchers just published a study saying, "We found the test swabs very useful," and, "The commercial swab test seemed to work well.
The FDA also found similar results as 2 Wants To Know in a nationwide test of unnamed brands. While our test does not show how much formaldehyde is in the fish, FDA scientists found levels of formaldehyde ranging from 11 parts per million up to 140 parts per million.
What's that science mumbo jumbo mean? On the high end, an average bathtub would have about two tablespoons of formaldehyde. According to the CDC, if eaten daily, that level could hurt your intestines, livers and kidneys. Although any fish containing less than 50 parts per million could have no effects. Again, our testing method doesn't show exactly how much formaldehyde is in the four brands testing positive.
Over e-mail, the Food and Drug Administration tells 2 Wants To Know there's no limit on how much formaldehyde can be in fish. So, "The FDA does not routinely test for formaldehyde."
So how do you protect your family? Appealing Products says try to buy fish raised or captured in the continental United States.
Here are the 11 brands with tested negative for Formaldehyde in 2 Wants To Know's test:
GORTON'S SMART & CRUNCHY FISH STICKS FROM ALASKA
HARRIS TEETER'S MAHI MAHI FILLETS FROM PERU
HARRIS TEETER'S TILAPIA FILLETS FROM CHINA
TARGET'S SIMPLY BALANCED MAHI MAHI FILLETS FROM TAIWAN
TARGET'S SIMPLY BALANCED SWAI FILLETS FROM VIETNAM
TARGET'S SIMPLY BALANCED TILAPIA FILLETS FROM CHINA
TARGET'S SIMPLY BALANCED YELLOWFIN TUNA FROM VIETNAM
THE GREAT FISH CO.'S SWAI FILLETS FROM VIETNAM
WALMART'S PREMIUM MAHI MAHI FILLETS FROM ECUADOR
WALMART'S SWAI FILLETS FROM VIETNAM
WALMART'S TILAPIA FILLETS FROM CHINA
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