Scott Albrecht test samples at the labs of NSF International in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Scott Albrecht test samples at the labs of NSF International in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Is your fish stick more bread than fish? Inspectors can tell

NSF International, an industry group that checks for fish fraud, has relocated to Everett from Seattle.

EVERETT — If the tuna sushi you had for dinner feels like it’s still swimming, it might not be tuna but escolar — an eel-like fish.

While escolar can taste rich and buttery, its unique properties have helped it clinch a title: the Ex-Lax of fish.

Substituting lower-cost escolar for higher-quality, higher-cost tuna is one way unscrupulous seafood suppliers profit from your misery, says experts at NSF International Everett.

NSF International, an independent organization, tests food products, including seafood products, on behalf of retailers and distributors, among other services.

Clients want to be sure that their suppliers’ products meet their specifications, said Scott Albrecht, a senior seafood inspector.

Those checks include looking for seafood fraud.

“We’re the CSI of fish,” joked Albrecht.

The organization also provides third-party certification, testing food and equipment to ensure they meet industry health and safety standards.

NSF is a nonprofit whose operations span the globe. It recently relocated its regional seafood services program from Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal to the Port of Everett.

Its new office and lab are at the port’s Marina Village, near Anthony’s Homeport restaurant.

The Everett location “allows us to partner with the Washington State University/Idaho Center for Advanced Food Technology program” and is closer to Canadian clients, said Tom White, the seafood program’s global manager for certification and audits.

The port is pleased to have NSF and its seafood sleuths aboard.

“Given our strategy to support and grow the maritime and seafood industry, it’s a perfect fit,” said Terrie Battuello, the port’s chief of business development, in a prepared statement.

Scott Albrecht unpacks samples at the labs of NSF International in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Scott Albrecht unpacks samples at the labs of NSF International in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

NSF, formerly National Sanitation Foundation, was established by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health in 1944 to develop health and safety standards.

One of the first assignments was developing sanitation rules for soda fountains and luncheonettes.

Now NSF operates in 175 countries, including Mexico, Peru, Spain, South Africa, India, Japan and Korea.

By law, seafood suppliers are required to label what and where the species comes from.

If the label says wild-caught sockeye salmon, it better not be farm-raised salmon.

An estimated 20 percent of seafood products in the U.S. are mislabeled, according to recent study by Oceana, a nonprofit conservation group.

“Seafood fraud ultimately deceives consumers who fall victim to a bait-and-switch, disguises conservation and health risks, and hurts honest fishermen and seafood businesses,” said Beth Lowell, deputy vice president of U.S. campaigns.

“Seafood traceability — from boat to plate — is critical to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled,” said Lowell in a prepared statement.

Measurements are recorded from salmon samples at the labs of NSF International in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Measurements are recorded from salmon samples at the labs of NSF International in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

In 2017, Americans consumed about 16 pounds of seafood per person — the highest per-capita consumption in nearly a decade, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries report. By comparison, Americans consumed 217 pounds of red meat and chicken per person that same year, a Department of Agriculture source said.

NSF International is one of many non-governmental industry groups that aims to protect seafood buyers.

“Most of what we do is quality checks,” said White.

On a recent visit to the Everett laboratory, seafood inspector Albrecht was opening packages of frozen pink salmon fillets.

A grocery chain wanted to know if its supplier’s salmon fillets were up to spec.

For the next hour, he measured, weighed and visually inspected one sample after another for too many bones, bruises or dimples —a tell-tale sign of parasites.

Does each fillet weigh 3 to 5 ounces and measure about 3 inches by 4 inches?

Does its pink hue match samples on a color reference card?

“We report what we find,” said Albrecht, working his way through the grocer’s quality checklist.

Scott Albrecht measures salmon samples at the labs of NSF International in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Scott Albrecht measures salmon samples at the labs of NSF International in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

An unscrupulous supplier also might mislabel the country of origin and substitute a lower-priced fish such as pollack for higher-priced Walleyed pike, or escolar for albacore.

Even fish sticks can be scammed if the breading exceeds a set percentage, Albrecht said.

Too much ice on Alaskan crab legs or too much breading on butterfly shrimp can tip the scale and cheat the buyer.

Still, distinguishing one fish from another isn’t easy — even for experts.

“When you take the skin off a fish and fillet it, it loses its identity,” said White.

When it’s too close to call, NSF collects samples for DNA analysis and sends them to a lab in Ferndale, Washington.

The results are compared to the Food and Drug Administration’s growing DNA database of seafood and other foods.

To help educate buyers, NSF plans to launch new education programs, including “Fish School” for restaurant and grocery store buyers who want to boost their seafood expertise, White said.

“In our former location, we were limited to less than a dozen per class,” said White. “Here we can expand our enrollment to as many as 60 per class.”

Eventually NSF will offer a similar program for consumers “who want to become smarter seafood shoppers,” White said.

Albrecht’s job hasn’t curbed his appetite for seafood.

After spending the morning inspecting a shipping box filled with pink salmon fillets, Albrecht was looking forward to a salmon salad he’d packed for lunch.

“It’s hard to find bad seafood, especially here,” he said, referring to the Northwest.

Janice Podsada;; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

Recipe: Black Cod

By NSF senior seafood inspector Scott Albrecht

After filleting the cod, put it in a pan and cover it with ¼-inch to ½-inch of miso paste.

Cover and put it in the refrigerator for two days.

When you’re ready to grill, take it out of the fridge and scrape off the miso.


Fish should be grilled to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Black cod typically cooks in 10 minutes or less, but use a food thermometer.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

With the Olympic mountains in the background, the first passenger flight by Alaska Airlines Flight 2878 departs for Portland on opening day of the Paine Field Terminal on Monday, March 4, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Alaska Airlines stalls plan for extra flights in Everett

Business has been sluggish, but the airline says it will offer 12 flights a day at Paine Field in the new year.

In this May 2020 photo, garbage cans line a residential street on trash pickup day in Mukilteo. In November, voters will weigh in on whether the city should encourage more high density housing. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Mukilteo asks for input on housing density, and it’s complicated

Here’s a guide to what voters should know about the advisory ballot measure. What does it actually do?

People hold signs in protest of the vaccine mandate after Boeing announced it would terminate workers who do not comply on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Some Boeing workers protest in Everett over vaccine mandate

The Boeing Company announced earlier this week that its workers must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
Former Boeing test pilot pleads not guilty in 737 Max case

He’s the first person to be charged with a crime in connection with the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes.

FILE - In this March 14, 2019 file photo, Ethiopian relatives of crash victims mourn at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia. Relatives of some of the passengers who died in the crash will mark the two-year anniversary of the disaster on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, by seeking a reversal of government orders that let Boeing 737 Max jets fly again.  (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)
Boeing pilot involved in Max testing is indicted in Texas

He’s accused of giving the FAA false information about systems that played a role in two deadly crashes.

Top (L-R): Kim Daughtry, Steve Ewing. Bottom (L-R): Gary Petershagen, Marcus Tageant.
Developers court Lake Stevens council incumbents with over $20K

Over half of the campaign dollars for four candidates came from people tied to real estate or property development.

Traffic drives in view of a massive Boeing Co. production plant, where images of jets decorate the hangar doors, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Everett, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Boeing says workers must get the COVID vaccine by Dec. 8

“Compliance with these requirements is a condition of employment,” says an internal company presentation.

The Boeing 737 Max 10 airplane landing at Boeing Field in Seattle on June 18. (Chona Kasinger / Bloomberg)
Boeing ramps up 737 Max but 787 deliveries are still blocked

Boeing last month maintained its steady trickle of sales as it navigates the aviation downturn.

A handful of Northwest Union Carpenter members picket in front of the new Marysville civic center construction site on the sixth day of a region wide union carpenter strike on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Carpenters strike ends with new contract and a $10 raise

Roughly 500 union members were working on projects in Snohomish County. It was among the largest strikes in 18 years.

FILE - In this March 20, 2020, file photo, the Amazon campus outside the company headquarters in Seattle sits nearly deserted on an otherwise sunny and warm afternoon. Amazon said Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 it will allow many tech and corporate workers to continue working remotely indefinitely, as long as they can commute to the office when necessary. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Amazon to allow employees to work remotely indefinitely

Although most cannot work remotely because their duties include grabbing orders and delivering them.

With new owners demanding the Grand Apartments' longtime residents leave, Stephen Teixeira, 52, documents issues at the Rockefeller Avenue building, on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Life at the Grand Apartments in Everett is now a ‘nightmare’

Longtime residents say the new owner, an investment company, is trying to bully them out of the building.

Bob Martin, 80, owner of the The Stag Barber and Styling in Snohomish. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
$90,000 fine doesn’t stop defiant Snohomish barber

Bob Martin appealed a state penalty for ignoring coronavirus rules and lost. It has not cut into his business.