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Something fishy going on with Florida seafood imports

The Food and Drug Administration prohibits the import of foods that would endanger the health of consumers. But in the past year, Florida officials have discovered that certain imported fish were contaminated with dangerous chemicals prohibited by federal authorities.

Foods that humans consume are federally regulated to prevent the consumption of substances that could cause illness or even death. In many situations, the dangerousness is not immediately known - often it takes a report of an illness or injury that can be directly linked to the product. Once the connection is established, the product is typically recalled to minimize the impact on consumers.

Authorities are not certain as to how many individuals and food establishments have been affected by the contaminated fish. There are also no reports at this point of consumers being made ill by the fish - tested samples are showing smaller levels of the toxic substances. Some of substances found on the fish include:

  • Antifungal agents
  • Illegal antibiotics
  • Carcinogens - including crystal violet

How are all these fish getting past inspections? Typically the inspections are done at three points: at the processing companies, at ports, and in the marketplace.

One hypothesis as to why the fish is appearing in US food markets is because other countries have made seafood regulations stricter. Importers bring the fish rejected by those other countries to the U.S. The contaminated fish could be getting by because the inspections only look at approximately 1 percent of the fish brought in.

Consumers' health and safety are in danger whenever a food product is contaminated by a banned substance. And while antibiotics are not necessarily illegal in all situations, the FDA has established what types are not safe for human consumption. In this particular instance, the FDA is still working on ways to better screen fish and effectively block the shipments of tainted seafood from entering the country.

Source: The Tennessean online, "Banned chemicals found in tons of imported fish," Laurie Udesky, 06 July 2011

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