Imported frozen fish .
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Bags of frozen fish fillets imported from China and sold in supermarkets that were found by Channel 2's Kolbotek program to contain added water and phosphates are being taken off the shelves by Shufersal, Rami Levi and other chain food stores. The affected bags constitute a majority of imported frozen fillets, the show maintained.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron-Greenboim told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night that "supervision of imported food in general and especially fish is meant to prevent the entrance to Israel of food that does not meet legal requirements as much as possible. The responsibility for meeting the products' demands for quality and safety is borne by the manufacturers, importers and marketers."
The spokeswoman added that ministry staffers who allow the import's entry and marketing depend largely on documents provided by labs which examined the food abroad, and then by commercial labs the ministry has approved that are hired by the importers to test it here after arrival.
On Monday, the TV show - which utilized the services of Bactochem - a highly reputable independent lab - to test the frozen fish fillets, reported that the products were in fact processed and not raw and natural products, even though the labels did not state this fact. Phosphates were added to make the fish absorb more water and make the meat thicker, thus charging the customer much more for much less fish, the show maintained.
Kolbotek host and editor Rafi Ginat said that Shimron-Greenboim was unable to persuade any of the ministry's Food Service officials to appear on the show and explain how it had allowed this illegality to occur. Asked Tuesday by The Jerusalem Post to explain their absence, Shimron-Greenboim had no answer, and no permission was given to thePost to speak to them.
The ministry told the Post that phosphates are food additives used in a wide variety of foods, and "their addition in accordance with regulations does not endanger public health. However, adding them changes the definition of food products from a raw [natural] product to a processed one, and that information must be marked" on the package.
The ministry, the spokeswoman continued, "recently added a requirement for the food importers to check for the presence of phosphates" in batches of their fish shipments. Those fish shipments that the importers' labs say have excessive levels of phosphates or whose presence is not marked on the package are barred entry into the country by the ministry or held back until the labels are corrected, Shimron-Greenboim said.
The spokeswoman added that an additional Israeli commercial lab is in the process of getting ministry recognition that will speed up examination.
The ministry "is looking into alternative reliable techniques that will deal with safety, as well as examine it in the shortest possible time due to the short shelf life of the products," she said.
Thus the ministry does not conduct regular tests on imported fish, the spokeswoman admitted.
"The supervision system and techniques change in accordance with the findings of surveys, ongoing data and new information from abroad," she said.
The association of fish importers told Kolbotek that Bactochem's test results "did not relate to important parameters, and they lack force."
The bulk of fish sold in supermarkets are frozen and imported; many more local fresh fish are sold in open-air markets, which also carry frozen imports.
Meanwhile, even some local fish are causing trouble, as the ministry has called on the public not to purchase bourri, carp and kassif marketed by the Ma'agar Hazor'im because a large number had died of unnatural causes. The causes of their deaths are being investigated, the ministry said on Monday night. The ministry reminded the public to purchase fish at markets and shops that display a current license.
The Israel Fishgrowers Association commented that the dead fish were sold by a "single unlicensed supplier who is not supervised by the authorities." It called on customers to continue to make sure that they buy fish only from "approved and supervised fish ponds, to ensure the health and freshness of the fish."