I recently read an article in the Bangkok Post entitled, Fishing for ethical business. The first sentence read “ Fresh, clean, and formaldehyde-free seafood….”.
Formaldehyde-free seafood? The article did not explain what that meant. I had some idea but a little research was a wake up call.
Fish is regularly touted to be an essential part of our diet, yet the source and handling of the fish is as important as the fish itself. The article went on to explain the importance of sustainable fishing, as opposed to commercial fishing that uses illegal fishing tools, destructive fishing practices and methods, slave labor, and the monopolies of Agro-industries that process and distribute fishing exports around the world.
Asia is the source of nearly 90% of fish sold worldwide, and nearly all fish is treated with formalin, a solution of formaldehyde and water, to preserve the fish before it is delivered to the exporter for processing and freezing. The use of formalin is unregulated throughout Asia. This process extends to fruits and vegetables as well.
How to Detect Formalin: Using a test kit is the surest way to detect formalin, but the consumer’s first line of defence is to use your nose. I am not a scientist but I have often noticed a slight chemical bleach like odor when purchasing supposedly fresh fish in supermarkets. Another indicator of formalin use is if the fish is stiff rather than flexible. Fact is almost all fish in supermarkets is not fresh at all, having been frozen for shipping and thawed for sale. Formalin use is illegal in the US and other western countries, but imported fish is not tested for formalin in the US, so beware!
Buying Fish: Ideally, only buy fish from a trusted fishmonger that sources exclusively from local or nearby waters and the fish is sold fresh and unadulterated. This may limit your choices, but buying ethically sustainable fish sourced locally makes logical as well as healthwise sense.
HOW TO REMOVE FORMALIN:
Fish: Submerge the fish in water for one hour. It will remove 60% formalin. If you submerge it in salt water for one hour, 90% formalin will be removed. If you submerge the fish in vinegar water mixture (90% vinegar, 10% water), 100% formalin removal can be guaranteed.
Fruits: If you suspect that the fruit has been dipped in formalin, you should submerge the fruit in water for at least 1 hour and rinsed. The formalin will have been removed and you can eat the fruit.
Vegetables: Vegetables can be ripened using formalin as well. You should submerge the vegetables in salt-water for at least 10 minutes and rinsed before cooking. It will remove most traces of formalin from the vegetables.