The “truth-in-menu” investigation was launched last year to see if San Diego consumers were the victims of seafood fraud. It resulted in criminal convictions against sushi restaurants in Carmel Mountain Ranch, El Cerrito, Hillcrest, North Park, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, Rancho Penasquitos and Tierrasanta. On the Peninsula, OB Sushi, 4967 Newport Ave., and Ikiru Sushi, 2850 Womble Road, pleaded guilty earlier this year.
Investigators with the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit of the Office of the City Attorney purchased advertised “lobster rolls” from various sushi restaurants throughout San Diego, then sent them to a laboratory where DNA testing confirmed that no lobster was in fact in any of the rolls.
Instead of lobster, the testing revealed the substitution of various types of less expensive seafood such as crawfish or pollack. Follow-up restaurant inspections by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the City’s investigator found no lobster in any of the businesses.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith was disappointed with the food fraud findings.
“The public should be able to count on truthful advertising from anyone doing business in San Diego. Honest customer service is not only required by law, it is good business,” Goldsmith said. “Our office will continue to prosecute businesses that lie to their consumers.”
The undisclosed substitution of the cheaper seafood is a criminal violation of California law that prohibits the adulteration of food and the false advertising or misbranding of food items. Along with fines, California law also requires the offending businesses to reimburse all of the investigation costs. The eight sushi restaurants paid a combined $14,000 in fines and more than $5,000 to reimburse investigative costs.
Each convicted business changed its menu and other advertising to reflect the true content of the seafood rolls.
A seafood fraud report by Oceana http://oceana.org/reports/oceana-study-reveals-seafood-fraud-nationwide found that Los Angeles and Orange County had the highest national seafood substitution rates at 52 percent.
It is not always clear if the substitution happens at the restaurant level, the seafood distribution level or elsewhere. The City Attorney’s investigation found the San Diego substitution occurred at the restaurant level.
The Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit of the San Diego City Attorney’s Office prosecutes violations of law that arise from consumer transactions within the City of San Diego and has a Consumer Help Line at (619) 533-5600. A complaint form may also be found on-line.
For more consumer tips and information on scams, check out the Consumer News at http://www.sandiego.gov/cityattorney/media/newsletters.