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Raw, ready-to-eat (RTE) seafood products have become increasingly popular globally, but they are vulnerable to species substitution and mislabeling. DNA barcoding allows for fish species identification by extracting, amplifying, and sequencing a standardized gene target. A wide variety of fish products have been studied with DNA barcoding, but little investigation of ceviche and poke has occurred in the United States. Sushi is known to be a target of mislabeling but has not been extensively studied in Orange County, CA. The objective of this study was to investigate species substitution and mislabeling of sushi, poke, and ceviche dishes sold at restaurants in Orange County, CA. A total of 105 raw, RTE seafood products were collected, including sushi (n = 35), poke (n = 35), and ceviche (n = 35). All samples were sequenced with DNA barcoding or mini-barcoding. The identified species were compared against the menu names, verbal declarations by restaurant staff, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Seafood List to verify whether acceptable market names were used for each product. Of the 103 samples identified with DNA barcoding, species substitution was detected at a rate of 23.3% and unacceptable market names were found in 45.6% of samples. Overall, 63.1% of samples had some form of mislabeling. When the mislabeling rates were divided based on product category, ceviche had the highest overall mislabeling rate (85.3%), followed by poke (61.8%), and sushi (42.9%). Mislabeling of ceviche and poke was primarily driven by the use of unacceptable market names, while species substitution was more common in sushi dishes. These rates reveal widespread mislabeling among raw, RTE seafood products and suggest the need for outreach efforts to ensure proper labeling of fish using acceptable market names, as well as further research into mislabeling within the raw, RTE seafood supply chain.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Food Control. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Food Control, volume146, in 2023.

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