University of South Florida researchers develop handheld sensor to sniff out fish fraud

February 03, 2015

Scientists at the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science have developed a handheld sensor capable of debunking fraudulent seafood species claims, helping to ensure that consumers are get what they pay for. It's estimated that up to 30 percent of the seafood entering the U.S. is fraudulently mislabeled, bilking U.S. fishermen, the U.S. seafood industry, and American consumers for an estimated $20-25 billion annually. Passing off other fish as grouper is one of the rackets this sensor aims to stop.

The paper describing the new technology and its application appears in a newly-published issue of Food Control, which is now available online.

"Is it grouper?" The QuadPyre RT-NASBA, gives this question a thumbs up or thumbs down rapidly, inexpensively and on-site-aboard ship, dockside, in warehouses or in restaurants. The instrument assays seafood samples using real-time nucleic acid sequence-based amplification (RT-NASBA). The handheld instrument that purifies and identifies the sample's RNA is a portable version of the lab-based benchtop model previously developed.

"Using the hand-held device, a complete field assay, potentially carried out at the point of purchase, requires fewer than 45 minutes for completion and can be performed entirely outside of the lab," says paper co-author and biological oceanographer John Paul, Distinguished University Professor at the USF College of Marine Science. "Some past assay procedures could take hours, even days to identify samples."

According to the paper's lead author and College of Marine Science graduate, Robert Ulrich, fraud involving grouper is prevalent locally because it is the third most economically valuable seafood product in Florida and there are commercial quotas on grouper catches. The task of identifying true grouper does get complicated because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows 64 species of fish to be labeled as "grouper."

"The demand for grouper in the U.S. is so strong that it cannot be met by the harvesting of domestic species alone," says Ulrich. "In 2012, over 4,000 metric tons of foreign grouper, worth $33.5 million, were imported into the U.S. This mass quantity of imported grouper creates opportunities for fraud, which can lead consumers to pay more for lesser valued seafood species and may allow importers to avoid paying tariffs."

The scientists believe that the portable QuadPyre version of RT-NASBA is accurate enough to detect grouper substitution on cooked fish at the point of restaurant service, even when the samples are masked by breading or sauces, an improvement over other techniques that have been unreliable in such cases.

The technology is being commercialized by a USF spinoff company called PureMolecular, LLC under the name GrouperChek (trademark pending). Assays for other commercially important seafood species are being developed. Assays already exist for non- seafood problematic species such as Karenia brevis (red tide-causing organism), noroviruses and enteroviruses.

"Federal and State governments are behind the need to protect U.S. seafood consumers," explains Paul. "A bill on seafood safety was recently introduced in the U.S. Congress and work on similar bills is in process in Maryland and Massachusetts. In addition, a multi-agency Presidential Task Force was established in 2014 and has made recommendations to the White House regarding the development of forensics technology for seafood identification."

The College of Marine scientists who developed the QuadPyre RT-NASBA hope that its use will help ensure those charged with seafood purchasing and seafood commerce regulation can begin to close the inspection gaps and better combat seafood mislabeling fraud.
-end-
The University of South Florida is a high-impact, global research university dedicated to student success. USF is a Top 50 research university among both public and private institutions nationwide in total research expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation. Serving nearly 48,000 students, the USF System has an annual budget of $1.5 billion and an annual economic impact of $4.4 billion. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference.

University of South Florida (USF Health)

Related Consumers Articles from Brightsurf:

When consumers trust AI recommendations--or resist them
The key factor in deciding how to incorporate AI recommenders is whether consumers are focused on the functional and practical aspects of a product (its utilitarian value) or on the experiential and sensory aspects of a product (its hedonic value).

Do consumers enjoy events more when commenting on them?
Generating content increases people's enjoyment of positive experiences.

Why consumers think pretty food is healthier
People tend to think that pretty-looking food is healthier (e.g., more nutrients, less fat) and more natural (e.g., purer, less processed) than ugly-looking versions of the same food.

How consumers responded to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for laying out the different threats that consumers face, and that consumers must prepare themselves for a constantly shifting landscape moving forward.

Is less more? How consumers view sustainability claims
Communicating a product's reduced negative attribute might have unintended consequences if consumers approach it with the wrong mindset.

In the sharing economy, consumers see themselves as helpers
Whether you use a taxi or a rideshare app like Uber, you're still going to get a driver who will take you to your destination.

Helping consumers in a crisis
A new study shows that the central bank tool known as quantitative easing helped consumers substantially during the last big economic downturn -- a finding with clear relevance for today's pandemic-hit economy.

'Locally grown' broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers
In tests, consumers in upstate New York were willing to pay more for broccoli grown in New York when they knew where it came from, Cornell University researchers found.

Should patients be considered consumers?
No, and doing so can undermine efforts to promote patient-centered health care, write three Hastings Center scholars in the March issue of Health Affairs.

Consumers choose smartphones mostly because of their appearance
The more attractive the image and design of the telephone, the stronger the emotional relationship that consumers are going to have with the product, which is a clear influence on their purchasing decision.

Read More: Consumers News and Consumers Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.