Does this Gulf seafood smell good to you?
Before fish from the Gulf can make it to your supermarket, it must first pass the government sniff test.
Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 11:37 AM
Photo: French Duck/Flickr
Is the seafood coming out of the Gulf of Mexico safe to eat following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? If it came from approved waters and was tested, the answer is yes, says a government expert.
Those tests include chemical examinations and some special human noses, like the one owned by Susan Linn, a food technologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA. One of 30 "expert sensory assessors" in the Gulf right now, Linn's highly trained olfactory senses are one of the things that stand between you and contaminated fish, she tells MSNBC.
"We did a lot of training and retesting," said Linn. "It confirmed to me that I was able to determine consistently a very low level of contamination: 1 part per million and a half part per million, consistently."
She says the presence of oil in fish smells like you'd expect it to: "Usually it's the used oil or motorboat oil smell." She also likens it to the smell of old pavement.
Fish sniffers have been in the Gulf for a couple of months now. They test both raw and cooked fish, a job that includes tasting the potentially poisoned morsels. It's their judgment that helps to determine whether a commercial fishing area can re-open.
As MSNBC reported back in July, it's a team effort. Seven people test the fish from each area, and at least five must declare a lack of petroleum smell or flavor in the fish. If two or more detect any taint, the fishing area remains closed.
NOAA reports that, as of Aug. 27, about 20 percent of the Gulf region's economic fishing zones remain closed. Out of 1,383 samples tested by their expert sensors, only one was found to be tainted, while chemical analysis has shown everything to be well below dangerous levels.