How do you like your fish? Pumped up with a strong chemical cleaner called STTP (sodium trippolyphosphate), or without?
Despite it being an important fish producing nation with active fish farms, on land and at sea, two-thirds of the frozen fish sold in Israel is imported from China.
Most Israelis complain that frozen fish is tasteless, but pick up a bagful of fillets for convenience all the same. We are resigned to paying for the 20 percent of water stated on the package – an ice covering to protect the fish, we’re told.
But until last January, the Israeli consumer didn’t know that they paying for much more water than that. Water that’s been forced into the flesh of the fish by a chemical process. That makes it heavier. And the importers richer.
“They sell us ice and water for the price of champagne,” said Dr. Moshe Rafaelovitch, from the Association of Veterinarians in Israel.
The scandal was exposed in January 2010 by Kolbotek, the Israeli consumer-awareness TV program. Kolbotek conducted an undercover investigation, sending a reporter with a hidden camera to two Chinese fish factories. On the second of the videos (below), we see filleted fish washed with STTP-laden water to make them heavier.
In one factory, the workers (wearing full body protection and masks) pound and pierce the fillets to make them accept even more water. The flesh of fish doesn’t accept water naturally; waterlogged fish would sink in their watery habitat and the species would die out. After undergoing this process, the fish are covered in water again and flash-frozen.
Water, chemicals, and ice: That’s what Israelis get in a package of frozen Chinese fish, with the connivance of the importers. No wonder the fish doesn’t taste like fish: its taste has been diluted with water and STTP, or sodium tripolyphosphate. Sometimes you’ll see the chemical labeled innocuously as E451.
So what is sodium trippolyphosphate? Everything has a fancy chemical name. Even salt sounds scary if you call it sodium chloride. Lots of processed foods have acceptable chemicals in them – what’s the scandal here?
A few grim answers:
- STTP is a strong chemical cleaner. It is used commercially in household cleaners, toothpaste, laundry detergents, dishwasher tablets, and toilet cleaners.
- You may view a Material Safety Data Sheet on STTP here. It states:
- Potential Acute Health Effects:
Very hazardous in case of eye contact (irritant). Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of ingestion, of
inhalation. Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (sensitizer, permeator). Inflammation of the eye is
characterized by redness, watering, and itching.
Potential Chronic Health Effects:
CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
TERATOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
DEVELOPMENTAL TOXICITY: Not available.
The substance is toxic to lungs.
Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage.
- Some imported frozen fish has levels of STTP higher than permitted by law.
Up till January, the public wasn’t informed by the manufacturers, or by the importers, that most frozen fish is not natural but processed. Most of us still sling the packages of frozen fillets into the shopping cart and pay, unaware that we’ve been denied an informed choice.
And what about the pain in your pockets? Why should you be cheated of fish and pay for water instead?
We had a look at the frozen fish section in the supermarket last night. True to what Kolbotek claims, there was only one frozen fish that had “100% natural” on the package. All others stated the presence of 20% water. Yet according to laboratory reports that Kolbotek received, some varieties carry as much as 41.3% (sole) – the Delidag brand plaice (zahavon) had an incredible 59.5% water plus 33.9% ice. The consumer is paying for less than 7% fish in the package.
We called the customer service number printed on the Delidag label. The service representative became surly when I asked if anything had changed since the Kolbotek program. “The labels state ‘contains phosphates,’ she said: “They always have.”
We are sorry to contradict, but it ain’t so.
Importing companies have access to fish that hasn’t been processed, and could be bringing that in. They choose not to. Obviously it’s much more profitable to sell water instead of raw materials.
China’s a country that’s never been much concerned with human rights or the value of dangerous chemicals they put into food or children’s toys . But we wonder if the importers allow their own wives and children to eat that frozen fish?
More stories on what we eat:
- How Green is Your Garlic?
- GM Foods Shrinking Sexual Health in a Womb Near You
- Meat Prices High? Switch to Vegetarian