When you eat fish in a restaurant, are you getting what you ordered?
An Inside Edition investigation has found that some restaurants are serving a cheaper fish than what's on the menu. A third of restaurants we visited in Atlanta served up cheaper fish.
Alexander Papetsas of Kellari Taverna in New York City says the switch can easily happen in some restaurants.
“It's really people just capitalizing on people not really having full knowledge of fish,” he said. “Even though these look a lot different sitting here now, they're not going to look as different once we cook them.”
To test it out, Inside Edition visited 22 restaurants in Tampa and Atlanta and ordered cod, grouper and catfish. The fish was packed up and samples were sent to a lab for DNA testing.
The results showed that all the Tampa restaurants served the fish as it appeared on their menus, but out of the restaurants tested in Atlanta, 33 per cent served a cheaper fish than what was advertised.
At a Noodle restaurant in Atlanta, an order of the fried grouper turned out to be an Asian farmed fish called swai, according to the lab results. While grouper sells for $20 a pound, swai costs just $3 a pound.
It mainly comes from an area in Vietnam called the Mekong Delta. Footage from the area shows the fish is sometimes farmed in overcrowded fish ponds and in dirty-looking waters. In a statement to Inside Edition, a fish industry spokesman insists the fish is some of the safest seafood you can eat and say it’s a healthy, affordable fish.
Inside Edition’s Lisa Guerrero returned to Noodle with the lab results and asked an employee: “We found out instead of grouper it was a cheaper farmed fish from Asia. How can you explain that?” But the woman walked away.
At Paschals, a fine dining seafood restaurant in Atlanta, the menu said they were serving catfish, but the lab found it was swai.
When asked about how the switch happened, the manager told Inside Edition, “I have no idea. I apologize. I have to find out how that happened.”
At a third Atlanta restaurant, Copeland's, the catfish on the menu also turned out to be a cheaper substitute. The manager responded: “I can't comment on that. I'd have to talk to my marketing director and general manager.”
Larry Olmsted, author of Real Food/Fake Food, says food substitutions are a dirty little secret among some restaurants in the industry.
“Anytime you have food that consumers can't readily identify with their eyes, that you can substitute something cheaper with and get away with it, people are going to do that,” he said.