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Sunday 22 October 2023

Do you really know where your seafood comes from?

An innovative hand-held scanner could change the way Australians buy their seafood.

Warming waters due to climate change, pollution, overfishing and fraud in the seafood supply chain means that knowing where our seafood comes from is more important than ever.

Australia has the third-largest fishing zone in the world, covering over 8 million square kilometres, , but it is estimated that over 60% of seafood eaten in Australia is imported from overseas. 

Researchers at UNSW Sydney are part of an ongoing collaborative project, led by ANSTO, that is developing novel ways to determine exactly where seafood has been sourced, and whether it has been farmed or was wild caught.

“The seafood supply chain, especially with seafood imported from across the globe, is quite long," says Associate Professor Jes Sammut, from the School of BEES.

"And there are various people at different points in the supply chain that handle a seafood product. In that process, there is the risk of what we call ‘food fraud’.”

A common type of food fraud is mislabeling. “For example, a product may say that it’s a barramundi fillet from Australia, when it’s really a barramundi fillet from overseas. Mislabeling can also happen at the retail end, so a cheaper product can be labelled as more expensive based on its origin and production method,” says Sammut.

Looking for solutions to these ongoing challenges, ANSTO scientists, led by Dr Debashish Mazumder and a research team at UNSW have developed protocols and mathematical models for a hand-held device that is able to determine the origin of seafood by providing a unique profile of its elements.

“The idea is to use the hand-held device at any point in the supply chain, providing details that can lead to a more sustainable and ethical seafood trade,” says Sammut.

This ongoing research is part of a huge collaborative effort between ANSTO, UNSW, Sydney Fish Market, Macquarie University and the National Measurement Institute.

“This device is really about empowering the consumer, empowering the retailer and also empowering the wholesalers to know more about the produce they’re buying and selling.”

In a recent study published in Food Control, the team used the hand-held X-ray device to locate the site of origin of black tiger prawns from across Australia, with over 80% accuracy.

“This paper brings us a step closer to seeing the scanner device being used on the fish-market floor, to determine in real time, where seafood has come from, and how it was produced,” says Sammut.

Image: Marco Brivo,  

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