NOAA seafood assessors work to keep consumers safe from oil-tainted seafood

interns Contributor
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Frozen fish, freshly caught in the Gulf of Mexico, come to the laboratory in Pascagoula, Miss., nearly every day since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began in late April.

Research vessels from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration bring fish samples from as far as Brownsville, Texas, and Tampa, Fla., and throughout the open waters of the Gulf. The goal is ensuring that fish even outside the expansive no-fishing zones are not contaminated before they hit the market.

At the NOAA Fisheries Pascagoula lab, seven highly trained seafood assessors — you might call them “professional fish smellers” — survey each sample that comes in by smelling raw product, cooked product and eventually tasting the cooked seafood. Along with a separate laboratory test of oil in fish samples done in Seattle, the “sensory” smell and taste tests are aimed at pinpointing whether fish outside of the closed areas may have become tainted.

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