As if choosing which seafood to buy wasn’t enough of a minefield already, we found ourselves in Whole Foods this weekend contemplating the pink pile of wild Gulf shrimp and wondering whether to trust the sign that claimed the crustaceans were perfectly safe. Some fisheries in the Gulf are still open and uncontaminated, and it turned out that those shrimp made a tasty summer dinner, made into a Mexican cocktail with Clamato, hot sauce, onion, and avocado. But how can we be sure that the various seafood that’s still being fished from the Gulf is safe?
It’s actually being checked by, well, smelling it — that’s the most effective, fastest, and cheapest way. In The Daily Beast today, Bill Mahan recounts his experience training to sniff out oil in fish. Testers were kept on a bland diet to keep their noses fresh and practiced honing their senses of smell by sniffing yeast, rice, and cucumber.
Polluted seafood apparently doesn’t smell like a gas station on a hot day; Mahan says that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig has a “sweet, fresh odor.” It seems like that would make it awfully hard to detect, but luckily a whiff of contaminated seafood also makes testers’ noses burn or triggers gag reactions.