InstantLabs fights food fraud with seafood ID tests

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

What fish is this - and can you rely on labels for the answer?
What fish is this - and can you rely on labels for the answer?

Related tags Polymerase chain reaction

InstantLabs has launched the first of a series of DNA tests for seafood, to combat the increasing problem of fraud in the sector. 

The Baltimore food safety test kit manufacturer has released its InstantID Atlantic Blue Crab DNA verification test this week, and is working on additional kits for catfish, grouper and tilapia for 2015.

Steven Guterman, CEO, InstantLabs told seafood fraud is an increasing challenge for the industry. However, given the short shelf life of the product, current testing methods cannot get results quick enough.

Yes or no?

“Typically, when someone wants to validate what they have, it takes one to two weeks. If I have a load of fresh fish, that doesn’t work.

“With InstandID, you take an example of fish, and you’ll get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in two hours.”

The DNA test can be carried out on site, rather than sending samples away for analysis.

In a 2013 report, Oceana, an international advocacy group, said one-third of fish in a survey of 1,215 samples was mislabelled.

“There are two aspects to seafood fraud,”​ said Guterman. “ If I’m paying for a better fish and getting a lesser fish, that’s not right.

“The other part is if someone is mislabelling, you really don’t know where the fish came from. For example, fish might be farmed out of view of inspection, in polluted waterways, near toxic chemicals.”

Consumers may also want to choose fish on the basis of health or conservation concerns, according to the Oceana report. For example, the FDA says certain fish should not be eaten by sensitive groups such as pregnant women and children because of the high mercury content.  More than 90% of seafood consumed in the US is imported, adds Oceana.

The US FDA publishes a chart highlighting the lower quality fish regularly sold in place of 20 higher-priced species.

The test

The species verification assay was created through a partnership with the University of Guelph, with research led by Dr Robert Hanner.

The targeted tests are designed to give a yes / no answer for one type of fish, specific to the test.

The InstantLab technology, based on its Hunter real-time PCR instrument, is compact and portable.

“We see testing happening at various points in the supply chain,” ​said Guterman. “That’s quite likely to include the importation point, there’s mislabelling happening coming into the country. Then the next level would be done at seafood whole sales and large fish processors.”

InstantLabs is a molecular diagnostic device company, which developed and markets the Hunter accelerated-PCR system. This polymerase chain reaction (FT-PCR) platform was originally developed for foodborne pathogen test kits for the food industry.  It also offers porcine and equine food identification kits. 

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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