Seafood Substitution in Restaurants and Takeaways

IFood Safety Supervisort is an offence under the Queensland Food Act 2006 (the Act) to provide a false description of food. In Queensland, the maximum penalty for providing a false description of food is $50,000.  Food Safety Supervisors need to ensure that the seafood is described and represented correctly.

Seafood substitution is when one species of fish, crustacean or shellfish is sold as another species. Food businesses must ensure that information provided in relation to food they sell or intend to sell is correctly described. This includes information that is provided on a label, package, advertisement, in connection with the food (such as an identification tag), or to the consumer upon request.

Food is falsely described when:

  • The food is represented as being a particular nature or substance for which there is a prescribed standard under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) and the food does not comply with that standard

  • The food is mixed or diluted with any substance that reduces the value or nutrition

  • The food is mixed or diluted with a substance of lower commercial value

  • Part of the food is removed so that its properties are diminished

  • The food is represented of a particular nature or substance, and a constituent of the food has been wholly or partly removed so that its properties are diminished compared to the represented nature of the food

  • A word, statement, device or design used in packaging or labelling the food or in advertising the food, creates a false impression about the nature or substance of the food, or the commercial value of the food, in the mind of a reasonable person

  • The food is not of the nature or substance represented by way in which it is packaged, labelled or offered for sale

Types of seafood substitution

Common types of seafood substitution have been found to include:

  • Vannamei prawns or tiger prawns advertised as ‘king prawns’

  • Imported scallops advertised as ‘Tasmanian scallops’

  • Basa fillets advertised as ‘dory’, ‘perch’ and ‘jewfish’ fillets; Tilapia fillets advertised as ‘Bream’ fillets

Labelling of seafood

Packaged fish and fish products sold by retail must be labelled in full. Fish products that are made and packaged on the premises from which they are sold, as well as fish or fish products sold unpackaged by retail, are exempt from some labelling requirements.

However, certain information is required to be provided to the purchaser. For value‐added fish products such as crumbed fish and fish cakes, the percentage of fish in the product must either be displayed or provided to the consumer upon request. The retailer also needs to be able to supply information to a purchaser upon request, either verbally or in writing, about potential allergens. Fish including fish that has been cut, filleted, mixed with other foods or gone through any other processing must be labelled with the country of origin. This requirement does not apply to food for immediate consumption, such as in restaurants.

Effects of seafood substitution

Seafood substitution can deceive and mislead consumers by providing a product which is not what the purchaser has requested. Seafood substitution can also pose a significant risk to public health and safety, due to the inability to trace the product sold, in the event of an urgent food recall.

Queensland Health has a variety of fact sheets with detailed information on food safety for Food Safety Supervisors.