The Nose Knows for Seafood Safety

nose seafood knows FDA

Can FDA Smell a
Rotten Fish?

FDA has stated that some seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat after the disastrous BP oil spill. Among the methods they use is the “sniff test” by an FDA organoleptic specialist’s nose to assess if seafood is safe to eat. Skeptics abound regarding a seafood safety expert sniffing fish. However, I can assure you that “the nose knows.” The one FDA course that I outright flunked during my 17 years at the Agency was the organoleptic analysis course for seafood safety. It was an entire week of constantly smelling fish. Those of us who flunked out went our separate ways from those who were equipped with a nose that knows. “Old man L.L.” was an excellent organoleptic specialist in the San Francisco District Laboratory when I worked there. The FDA’s organoleptic specialists really know their business. And their business is to use their nose to sniff fish to detect adulteration. They are highly trained and do it very well. And if I hadn’t flunked fish sniffing I might actually be doing it there with them. Read NPR’s interesting interview:

NPR Story

UPDATE: Read a Different Opinion

And FDA’s take on it all:

FDA Gulf Oil Spill Seafood Update

ALSO: Please join me at:

GxP Perspectives LinkedIn Group


3 Responses to The Nose Knows for Seafood Safety

  1. The Destructionist says:

    (This is a joke posting, right? Do you honestly think that you can smell whether a fish has ingested oil and whether or not that fish is safe to eat? Mercury has a definitive smell too, in large quantities. Are you therefore going to then tell me that you have the ability to determine the toxicity of those fish subjected to Mercury using the “sniff test”?

    Since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20, 2010 an estimated 60,000 barrels of oil per day have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico (according to official government reports). That amount equates to approximately 224,280,000 gallons of crude. Some of that oil was captured by skimmers and boom, but a majority of it is still out there: either floating underwater, just out of sight, or dispersed into tiny droplets through the use of the detergent Corexit® (more aptly known by environmentalists as “hides it,” because that’s exactly what it does).

    Since British Petroleum capped the well on July 17th, the FDA has given the green light for consumers to go ahead and eat gulf seafood, claiming that it is safe. However, some fishermen are questioning the FDA’s judgment and guidelines in determining seafood safety.

    “If I put fish in a barrel of water and poured oil and Dove detergent over that, and mixed it up, would you eat that fish?” asked Rusty Graybill, an oysterman and shrimp and crab fisherman from Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish. “I wouldn’t feed it to you or my family. I’m afraid someone’s going to get sick.” (Courtesy Associated Press)

    FDA tests regarding the safety of gulf seafood seem rather general. According to that department, if it looks bad or smells bad, then just don’t eat it. But many of the toxins in our environment can’t be seen or smelled. Take for example, the mercury found in Tuna and other large ocean water fish. We know that it can be found in their flesh, but we can’t detect it visually, or by smell. Even so, we know that ingesting these fish over a period of time can result in a host of health problems in humans, including kidney and nerve damage.

    I know that our government wants to aid the fishing industry to overcome the effects of this unmitigated disaster caused by BP, but at what cost…that of our own health? In my opinion, it is far too early in the game for anyone to declare that seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat.

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