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Seafood substitution in restaurants and takeaways

Seafood substitution is when one species of fish, crustacean or shellfish is deliberately or unintentionally sold as another species. Describing food incorrectly is an offence under the NSW Food Act 2003.

The NSW Food Authority has found that the most common types of seafood products being substituted in restaurants and takeaways include:

  • Vannamei prawns or Tiger prawns being advertised as ‘King prawns’
  • imported scallops being advertised as ‘Tasmanian scallops’
  • Basa fillets being advertised as ‘Dory’, ‘perch’ and ‘Jewfish’ fillets
  • Tilapia fillets being advertised as ‘Bream fillets’.

Fish and other seafood products, such as scallops and prawns, should be advertised and described by their correct species or marketing name. For example the word ‘King’ does not refer to the size of the prawn in ‘King prawns’ but is the name of the species. ‘Tiger prawn’, ‘School prawn’ and ‘Vannamei prawn’ are all different species of prawns. Similarly a ‘Tasmanian scallop’ is a particular species of scallop, which is different to imported scallop varieties from China and Japan.

Names to use for seafood

It is recommended that you use the names in the Australian Fish Name List, which is maintained by Seafood Services Australia. The list includes names for fish, crustaceans and shellfish and was developed in consultation with industry and government. You can obtain a copy from:

Penalties for seafood substitution

The NSW Food Authority is responsible for enforcing all aspects of the national Food Standards Code, NSW Food Act 2003 and Food Regulation 2015.

Under Division 3, Clause 5 (2), of the Food Standards Code, a food business, when requested, must provide:

  • the name and address of the vendor, manufacturer, packer or importer
  • the prescribed name or an appropriate description of the food.

Non-compliance carries a maximum penalty of $55,000 for individuals and $275,000 for corporations.

Under the Food Act, misleading conduct relating to the sale of food is an offence. Substitution is misleading conduct relating to the sale of food. Division 2 Clause 18 of the Act specifies that a person must not:

  • mislead or deceive through the advertising, packaging or labelling of food intended for sale or the sale of food
  • falsely describe the food through the advertising, packaging or labelling, or
  • sell food that has been falsely described in its packaging or labelling nor sell food if it is not what the purchaser has requested.

Misleading conduct relating to the sale of food also carries a maximum penalty of $55,000 for individuals and $275,000 for corporations.

How you can stop seafood substitution

Food business operators must keep paperwork that clearly states the species of fish bought and sold to:

  • assist with tracking the sale of food
  • provide recourse for anyone who finds they have not got what they paid for.

If you are a food business proprietor, you should routinely check all your advertising material to ensure the advertised type/species of seafood is the same species as what you are selling to customers. Advertisements can be in the form of menus, menu boards, store signage or pamphlets advertising specific products, meals or dishes.

How to report seafood substitution

If you are aware of seafood substitution or need advice on avoiding it, contact the Food Authority’s Consumer and Industry Helpline:

Tel: 1300 552 406

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