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Shoppers paying for weight of ice in frozen fish, investigation finds

-- The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it is reviewing the results of a multi-state investigation that found that shoppers have been paying for large amounts of ice that are not supposed to be included in the price of frozen seafood.

The investigation -- conducted by weights and measures inspectors in 17 states -- found that a coating of ice applied to frozen seafood to preserve quality during storage and distribution was often wrongly included as part of the labeled weight of seafood. In some instances, the investigation found, ice accounted for up to 40 percent of the product's weight.

"We're reviewing their results and determining whether FDA should take any action and if so, what actions should we take," said Michael Herndon, spokesman for the FDA.

All imports subject to FDA regulation are screened before entry into the country, Herndon said, and a new risk-based computerized system will enable investigators to better target food coming into the country that may be "adulterated, economically, or otherwise."

If the FDA determines that economic fraud is taking place, he said, they first issue a warning letter and later take "stronger action" if necessary. Herndon said the FDA has issued numerous warning letters on the seafood issue.

The ice was wrongly included as part of the labeled weight of seafood, according to the National Conference on Weights and Measures, which conducted the investigation.

"You're paying up to $23 a pound, according to the products that were tested by these states, and you shouldn't be paying for water," said Don Onwiler, executive director of the group, a nonprofit association of weights and measures officials, federal agencies, manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

The investigation was prompted by the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood industry association, over concerns about improper labeling used by some packaging companies.

More than 21,000 packages of seafood were removed from store shelves and distribution centers during the four-week investigation.

The investigation organizer -- Judy Cardin, weights and measures chief for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection -- said investigators in multiple states were trained together and used a process that involved spraying the ice off the seafood in a specific manner and then comparing the weight of the seafood to what was written on the package.

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