The real news about fake food

Anne Schindler pulled the records, and dug through them to find more than 50 restaurants that were misrepresenting one food for another, like tilapia for grouper.

"Cheese food,” non-dairy creamer and imitation crabmeat are all considered acceptable forms of fake food. But knowingly eating something fake is a far cry from being duped.

According to the past two years of state restaurant inspection records, First Coast restaurants were cited for selling fake or mislabeled foods more than 50 times -- for everything from false farm-to-table claims to phony fish.

“There is just a lot of fraud,” says John Tully at Safe Harbor Seafood in Mayport. “In restaurants, it’s pretty widespread.”

Safe Harbor prides itself on reliably sourced fish, Tully says, quickly running through their current market offerings from memory. “We have Caribbean snapper, tilapia from Columbia, the Mahi is local, the flounder is local, the grouper is local.”

Prices aren’t cheap -- the grouper sells for $18.95 a pound. But Tully insists the “you get what you pay for” adage is particularly true when it comes to seafood, and price is the first clue that you aren’t getting the fish you expected.

“ If someone’s telling you its grouper, and it’s 10 dollars a pound I would question that,” he says. “A restaurant can’t sell you a grouper sandwich for $5.95 --  it costs them more to get it.”

Between 2015 and 2017, according to records from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, 51 administrative complaints were filed against First Coast restaurants for selling one thing and labeling it another. The so-called “Category 52” violations often involve the sale of fish, as when red snapper or grouper are subsisted with cheaper, less regulated ones like Asian catfish or tilapia.

It’s a psychological bait and switch, but it can also pose a health risk. Pregnant woman advised to eat low-mercury fish like grouper, may end up eat eating a species with higher levels.

And escolar, found many sushi restaurants, contains a naturally occurring toxin that acts as a laxative in some people. It’s been labeled a toxin in Japan, which has banned the species since the late ‘70s. 

State records show 14 area sushi restaurants were cited for serving escolar under the label “white tuna” – a species that does not exist.

MOBILE USERS: If you can't see the map, click here

None of the restaurants wanted to talk on camera. All are on record as having corrected the violation.

One owner explained over the phone that escolar is a popular and flavorful fish, and several of the cited restaurants continued to serve the fish – correctly labeled.

Another restaurant manager explained what he called an unintentional violation of selling Vietnamese catfish – also known as swai – as American catfish. “Really it’s a different species, but they’re both considered catfish,” he said. “But the only species you can sell as American catfish is the domestically raised versions.”
Tully says there’s good reason for that. Fish raised in other countries aren’t as tightly regulated as U.S. versions, and may come from rivers he describes as “full of blue chemicals and human waste.”

Not all fake food violations are seafood related. Three restaurants claiming to be MGS free had large quantities of the chemical flavor in their kitchens. And three restaurants were cited for falsely claiming to use farm to table vendors.

Any restaurant caught misrepresenting foods receives an administrative complaint, which is a form of legal action.  It can be fined or even have its license suspended if the violations continue. 

Tully thinks fraud is declining as customers grow more educated and interested in their food sources. “it’s not as bad as it once was,” he says. “In the not so distant past I think people were being fooled a lot.”

But with seafood the main culprit, Tully says if you have any doubt, ask for proof.

“I would actually ask to see the product. I want to see what I just paid for in in its raw form. Just ask them, ‘Can you bring it out just a piece of it?’ I mean they should have nothing to hide.”

For those who can't see the interactive map, here is a list of the violations:

NAME LOCATION COUNTY INSPECTION COMMENT VIOLATION REGARDING
GEORGE'S 7466 W MOUNT VERNON ST, GLEN ST MARY, FL 32040 Baker 3/15/2016 Intermediate - Identity of food or food product misrepresented. Establishment list 1 (pc) catfish and 2 (pc) catfish on menu. Pangasianodon Hypophthalmus is the only fish product used. catfish
MING MOON 664 KINGSLEY AVE #107, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 11/18/2016 Basic - Establishment advertised no MSG used in the food, but a large quantity of MSG was present . Chicken base with 2nd ingredient MSG. repeat. Violation from 05-11-16 **Repeat Violation** **Admin Complaint** MSG
SABAI ASIAN BISTRO 2454 MCMULLEN BOOTH RD #205, CLEARWATER, FL 33759 Pinellas 9/29/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Imitation crab contains no crab according to ingredients listed on original packaging. THIS VIOLATION MUST BE CORRECTED BY: 11/28/15 **Warning** crab
CHINA CHEF 125 E WALKER DR, KEYSTONE HEIGHTS, FL 32656 Clay 1/29/2016 Basic - Establishment advertised no MSG used in the food, but a large quantity of MSG was present in establishment. **Warning** MSG
MING MOON 664 KINGSLEY AVE #107, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 5/11/2016 Basic - Establishment advertised no MSG used in the food, but a large quantity of MSG was present in establishment.chicken base used first ingredient is MSG ADVISED MGR TO REMOVE NO MSG FROM MENU. **Warning** MSG
MING MOON 664 KINGSLEY AVE #107, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 5/11/2016 Basic - Food offered in a way that misleads/misinforms the consumer. Menu states 100% white meat. Dark meat also used. **Warning** other
NO 1 CHINA 305 BLANDING BLVD UNIT A, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 2/23/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised scallops on the menu/menu board but served imitation scallops/seafood nuggets. Imitation scallops used for menu item A6 per employee, not indicated on menu. scallop
HUNAN WOK 661 BLANDING BLVD STE 104, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 2/10/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised scallops on the menu/menu board but served imitation scallops/seafood nuggets. Imitation scallops now noted on menu and counter. **Corrected On-Site** scallop
WOK N ROLL 1670 WELLS RD #108, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 11/9/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised scallops on the menu/menu board but served imitation scallops/seafood nuggets. Menus not changed or marked out. **Repeat Violation** **Warning** scallop
HOT WOK 2151 LOCH RANE BLVD #5, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 3/2/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised scallops on the menu/menu board but served imitation scallops/seafood nuggets. Next to last ingredient says scallop meat. Awaiting OPQ decision. **Warning** scallop
MANDARIN WOK 422 S ORANGE AVE, GREEN COVE SPRINGS, FL 32043 Clay 8/23/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised scallops on the menu/menu board but served imitation scallops/seafood nuggets. Owner marking with K on menu. **Corrected On-Site** scallop
WOK N ROLL 1670 WELLS RD #108, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 5/10/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised scallops on the menu/menu board but served imitation scallops/seafood nuggets.fried scallops. Menus now marked by owner. **Warning** scallop
FUSHIMI SUSHI 1786 BLANDING BLVD #13, MIDDLEBURG, FL 32068 Clay 4/13/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Establishment serving Escolar as White tuna **Admin Complaint** tuna
OISHI SUSHI 950 BLANDING BLVD # 8, ORANGE PARK, FL 32065 Clay 6/24/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Operator indicated escolar in reach in freezer is used to prepare menu items advertised as white tuna. **Admin Complaint** tuna
MIZU JAPANESE STEAK HOUSE 1780 WELLS RD, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 1/28/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Per operator escolar on seafood invoice used for white tuna advertised on menu. All menus corrected to reflect substitution during inspection. **Admin Complaint** **Corrected On-Site** tuna
MING MOON 664 KINGSLEY AVE #107, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 11/18/2016 Intermediate - Identity of food or food product misrepresented. Menu states 100% white meat. Violation was cited on 5-11-16. **Repeat Violation** **Admin Complaint** other
FAMOUS AMOS RESTAURANT 342 BLANDING BLVD, ORANGE PARK, FL 32073 Clay 1/19/2017 Intermediate - When operator asked to identify product used for specific item advertised on menu/menu board, operator indicated an imitation product or different product was used. Catfish advertised on Thursdays special menu. When asked to show catfish, cook pointed to container of Swai fillets in walk in cooler. No catfish on site. **Admin Complaint** other
COPELAND'S OF NEW ORLEANS 4310 SOUTHSIDE BLVD, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32216-5474 Duval 8/3/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised catfish on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Catfish dishes are advertised on menu but swai is used instead. Per manager, swai is being used because catfish is not available. **Warning** Catfish
OASIS SANDWICHES 866 N EDGEWOOD AVE, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32254 Duval 1/21/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Krab patties, mgr put a k for krab on board menu **Corrected On-Site** crab
ELEMENT BISTRO, BAR AND LOUNGE/MYTH NIGHTCLUB 333 E BAY STREET, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32202 Duval 12/21/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Philadelphia roll on menu says crab . Per chef establishment uses imitation crab. **Warning** crab
NAGASAKI & CHOPSTICK 12400 YELLOW BLUFF RD #110, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32226 Duval 12/16/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Observed imitation Crab sticks on site and crab stick tempura and Alaskan snow crab tempura on menu. Operator was not able to produce invoices. **Warning** crab
BUBBA'S SEAFOOD AND STEAKS 1965 S LANE AVE, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32210 Duval 1/17/2017 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Menu offers seafood salad, salad is made with imitation crab but indicated on the menu with the spelling crab. crab
TOKYO 7749 NORMANDY BLVD STE 119, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32221 Duval 10/7/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised grouper on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Observed grouper roll, white fish sashimi and a Tokyo roll with tempura grouper on the menu. Reviewed invoices and observed no grouper. Asked chef what type of fish is used for grouper roll and was advised that the establishment is using tilapia fish as a grouper substitute. Advised that menu needs to be updated to correctly reflect the type of fish served to the public. **Admin Complaint** grouper
SUCCESS CHINESE RESTAURANT 7900 103 ST #28, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32210-6660 Duval 2/8/2017 Basic - Establishment advertised no MSG used in the food, but a large quantity of MSG was present in establishment. **Warning** MSG
GREEN LAKE CHINESE REST 4495 ROOSEVELT BLVD #413, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32210 Duval 2/14/2017 Basic - Establishment advertised no MSG used in the food, but a large quantity of MSG was present in establishment. **Warning** MSG
CHINA MOON 8299 W BEAVER ST #1A, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32220 Duval 11/9/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised scallops on the menu/menu board but served imitation scallops/seafood nuggets. Employee wrote imitation by scallops on board **Corrected On-Site** scallop
NAGASAKI & CHOPSTICK 12400 YELLOW BLUFF RD #110, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32226 Duval 12/16/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised red snapper on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Observed red snapper teriyaki and red snapper sushi on the menus. Observed no red snapper on site and operator was not able to produce invoices for the red snapper. Observed a large quantity of tilapia fish on site but no tilapia on the menu. **Admin Complaint** snapper
THAI SPICE KITCHEN 6426 BOWDEN RD #200, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32216 Duval 5/12/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised red snapper on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. On menu stated Red Snapper but they are using Lane Snapper. **Warning** snapper
SUSHI PALACE 626 MARSH LANDING PKWY, JACKSONVILLE BEACH, FL 32250 Duval 7/26/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised red snapper on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Red snapper is listened on menu, when asked for invoices manager stated tilapia is used in place of red snapper. **Admin Complaint** snapper
LARRY'S GIANT SUBS 1509 MARGARET ST, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32204 Duval 9/30/2016 Basic - Establishment advertised a specific brand of a product, but used another brand. Bumble Bee Albacore tuna advertised on menu. Observed Starkist brand Albacore tuna used within establishment. Operator indicated that this is a temporary substitution, as Bumble Bee was unavailable during last product order. tuna
KAN-KI II JAPANESE STEAKHOUSE 11148 SAN JOSE BLVD, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32223 Duval 5/29/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Invoices states escolar and sushi bar display states escolar/ menu sushi list states white tuna. **Warning** tuna
OSAKA JAPANESE STEAKHOUSE 9651 CROSSHILL BLVD STE 102, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32222 Duval 9/29/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Manager stated that establishment uses Escolar for "White Tuna". Lunch menu indicates a "White Tuna Roll". tuna
SAWA SUSHI 6426 BOWDEN RD #202, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32216 Duval 12/1/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Menu advertises white tuna without noting escolar under food item, "white tuna special roll." White tuna (escolar) is correctly identified in all other areas of menu. Manager in process of changing menu. **Corrective Action Taken** **Warning** tuna
PHILIP SUSHI 9475 PHILIPS HWY STE 20, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32256 Duval 12/30/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Menu does not reflect that white tuna is escolar under 'Snow White' roll. Establishment has identified white fish as escolar in another place on menu. Operator states she will have new menus printed next month. **Warning** tuna
FUJI SUSHI & GRILL 731 DUVAL STATION RD, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32218 Duval 5/13/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Menus state "white tuna" under the Polar Roll item but establishment serves escolar for item. Operator will correct all menus to reflect proper ingredients **Warning** tuna
YUMMY SUSHI 4372 SOUTHSIDE BLVD STE 207 & 208, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32216 Duval 10/24/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Operator has escolar on all items where white tuna is offered except the "white river" on the dinner menu. Employee corrected menus **Corrected On-Site** tuna
KAZU SUSHI BURRITO 6025 BUTLER POINT RD #104, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32256 Duval 1/30/2017 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Using escolar instead. Verified on invoices and with manager, she stated that is what they have been using but she will change it. **Admin Complaint** tuna
WASABI JAPANESE RESTAURANT 840 NAUTICA DR #127, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32218 Duval 10/19/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. White tuna is listed on sushi menu, on case at sushi bar, and on dinner menu under "fuji mountain"all invoices state that escolar was purchased **Admin Complaint** tuna
LARRY'S GIANT SUBS 1509 MARGARET ST, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32204 Duval 7/14/2016 Intermediate - Identity of food or food product misrepresented. Establishment claims they are farm to table on menu. Menu claims pastrami and grilled chicken breast comes from Raikes farms. No invoices could be located during time of inspection proving items come from specified farm. Items have already been removed from original packaging so identity of provider cannot be confirmed. **Warning** farm to table
BOLD CITY GRILL 10605 DEERWOOD PARK BLVD, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32256 Duval 1/19/2017 Intermediate - Identity of food or food product misrepresented. Caesar dressing is commercially process, however menu states "hand made Caesar dressing" on bold city Caesar salad. Manager stated menu are being reprinted. homemade
LARRY'S GIANT SUBS 657 N 3 ST, JACKSONVILLE BEACH, FL 32250 Duval 1/30/2017 Intermediate - Identity of food or food product misrepresented. Establishment advertises "farm to table" on front of menu brochure, manager stated all food comes from SYSCO, cannot show any invoices proving food is purchased directly from a farm. **Warning** farm to table
SUPER WINGS & PHILLY 6855 WILSON BLVD, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32210 Duval 10/14/2016 Intermediate - Identity of food or food product misrepresented. Menu offers tilapia sub, whiting sub, and catfish sub only. No catfish on site. Swai fillets observed in walk-in freezer and walk-in cooler. Operator states that when catfish sub is ordered the customer is informed that they have Swai instead. Operator cannot produce invoices for any received cat fish. Operator posted sign at front counter stating that catfish is unavailable. **Corrective Action Taken** **Admin Complaint** tilapia
LARRY'S GIANT SUBS 1509 MARGARET ST, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32204 Duval 9/30/2016 Intermediate - Menu offers misleading information. Establishment claims "farm to table" with no foods identified in menu to substantiate the claim. farm to table
SUSHI HOUSE/SUNRISE HUANG 463797 SR 200 #2, YULEE, FL 32097 Nassau 12/21/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Observed crab on the sushi speciality menu which is located on each table in the dining room. Advised by operator that imitation crab meat is used in the sushi rolls. Advised that the menus need to be corrected. Observed employees working on correcting menus during the inspection . **Corrective Action Taken** **Warning** crab
jade bistro 1484 SADLER RD, FERNANDINA BEACH, FL 32034 Nassau 11/19/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Crab Rangoon advertised on menu made with imitation crab meat. Discussed with manager options to correct the advertisement. Manager replaced the C with a K on the word "crab" on all the menus. **Corrected On-Site** **Warning** crab
SUSHI HOUSE/SUNRISE HUANG 463797 SR 200 #2, YULEE, FL 32097 Nassau 7/13/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Multiple menus list "crab" on several menu items but establishment has imitation krab available. **Warning** crab
SUSHI HOUSE/SUNRISE HUANG 463797 SR 200 #2, YULEE, FL 32097 Nassau 12/21/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised red snapper on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Observed red snapper labeled on the fish located inside of the reach in cooler located on the left hand side of the sushi bar area as well as on the menu. Requested invoices. Operator presented invoices for izumidai ( tilapia ) and presented the fish in the original packaging which identifies the fish as tilapia. Advised to remove red snapper from the menus immediately. Observed employees working on correcting menus during the inspection . **Corrective Action Taken** **Admin Complaint** snapper
fancy sushi 1478 SADLER RD, FERNANDINA BEACH, FL 32034 Nassau 11/20/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised red snapper on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Observed red snapper on menu and observed red snapper teriyaki served to customers sitting next to me in the dining area while completing the inspection report. Customer's receipt confirmed that red snapper was served.Operator was not able to produce invoices with red snapper on it. Asked what fish was used for the customers meal. Operator showed tilapia fish that was stored in the reach in cooler under the prep table on the left hand side of the sushi bar area. Observed staff removing red snapper from the menus and replacing it with tilapia . **Admin Complaint** snapper
SUSHI HOUSE/SUNRISE HUANG 463797 SR 200 #2, YULEE, FL 32097 Nassau 7/13/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Establishment has "white tuna" list on all menus **Admin Complaint** tuna
PEKING CHINESE RESTAURANT 525 STATE ROAD 16 #110, SAINT AUGUSTINE, FL 32084 St. Johns 10/5/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. crab
SUSHI BISTRO 46 TUSCAN WAY #303, SAINT AUGUSTINE, FL 32092 St. Johns 7/27/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Menu advertises crab in sushi rolls, per operator imitation crab is used. crab
TERIYAKI HA HA 10440 US 1 N #123, SAINT AUGUSTINE, FL 32095 St. Johns 3/4/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised crab on menu/menu board but served imitation crab. Crab is advertised as being used in seafood delight menu item, manager showed imitation crab as being used when asked about the product. crab
SUSHI BISTRO 46 TUSCAN WAY #303, SAINT AUGUSTINE, FL 32092 St. Johns 7/27/2015 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. White tuna is advertised on menu. Per operator/invoices fish being served is escolar. **Admin Complaint** tuna
SAIGON TO TOKYO 1835 HWY US 1 S, SAINT AUGUSTINE, FL 32084 St. Johns 5/3/2016 Intermediate - Establishment advertised white tuna on the menu/menu board but served another type of fish. Escolar is identified on appetizer portion of the menu but not the sushi rolls portion, owner identified white tuna as escolar on other portions of the menu **Corrected On-Site** tuna
 

 

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