Price Chopper Supermarkets have the backing of a laboratory to assure customers at their five stores in St. Lawrence County that the fish they are buying are actually what the labels say they are.
Price Chopper said evidence of growing concern among supermarket and restaurant customers about food labeling -- fueled by stories such as Consumer Reports research that found that 18 percent of seafood samples collected from retail stores and restaurants on the East Coast last year were mislabeled – prompted them to do some research of their own.
To provide verifiable assurances for its customers, Price Chopper Supermarkets commissioned a voluntary test of its seafood stock. The report concluded that 100 percent of the fish tested was properly labeled.
The testing lab, Therion International, based in Saratoga Springs, received more than 150 randomly selected voluntarily submitted samples from 15 different Price Chopper fish product lines for testing. In 2004, Therion was the first commercial laboratory to provide DNA-based testing services to verify seafood species identity. Past and present customers have included Bonefish Grill, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Oceana, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun Times and many others.
“Price Chopper came to us to develop a testing protocol to help them reassure their customers about their labeling and the quality of their seafood,” said William F. Gergits, managing member of Therion International. “Our tests found not one incidence of mislabeling.”
Therion employs a DNA testing protocol that examines the DNA code (or sequence) of portions of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). All individuals within a given species will share the same mtDNA genetic code. Therion randomly selected fish from the Price Chopper warehouse in Rotterdam, near Albany, to conduct the study at their laboratory in Troy.
Other studies of both restaurants and retail food merchants have found that red snapper and white tuna were among the most commonly mislabeled seafood. Both were tested in the Price Chopper study and were found to be labeled appropriately. News reports cite one of the most common reasons that restaurants, wholesalers, and retailers mislabel seafood is simply to make more money.
“Our purpose in commissioning a course of scientifically reliable DNA testing on our seafood in addition to our own internal control procedures, is to provide quality assurances to our customers beyond those offered by other purveyors,” said Lee E. French, Price Chopper’s vice president of seafood.
“Being able to verify the various species of fish that we carry, in much the same way that we document the sustainability of our sourcing, speaks to our philosophical position, as it offers our customers a well-deserved additional peace of mind,” he said.
In St. Lawrence County, Price Chopper operates markets in Potsdam, Canton, Massena, Gouverneur and Ogdensburg.