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March 15th, 2012

What is Sodium Tripolyphosphate Doing in Your Fish?

By Marie Logan

Seafood lovers beware: there’s a chemical that threatens to deceive you about the freshness of your flaky fillets of fish. You might be paying more for seafood that contains this chemical, because it can increase the weight of the products to which it’s applied. Worse, you might not even know it’s there, because labeling of this potentially toxic chemical is not mandatory in the U.S.

So what is it? It’s an additive—called sodium tripolyphosphate, or STPP for short—and it is used to make your seafood appear firmer, smoother and glossier. Seafood manufacturers may soak your seafood in a quick chemical bath of STPP in order to achieve these effects. Some of the more commonly “soaked” seafood items include scallops, shrimp and anything filleted that’s very flaky—like hake, sole or imitation crab meat. (For those of you following food safety news, this is similar to the spraying of carbon monoxide on red meat, which can make older meat appear fresher than it is.)

If seafood is soaked for too long in an STPP bath, it may absorb more water, which means you’ll pay more for the product by the pound because the excess water makes it weigh more. A product may have been “soaked” with STPP if a milky white liquid oozes from the fish as you cook it, and it may also deflate in size a bit.

In large quantities, STPP is a suspected neurotoxin, as well as a registered pesticide and known air contaminant in the state of California.

How can one steer clear of STPP? Ask at your market or fish shop if the scallops or shrimp you’re being sold are “dry.” You can ask the same thing of waiters at seafood restaurants—they should have an understanding of the topic. (In industry-speak, “wet” fish means a product has been soaked in phosphates.) You can also check labels of packaged products, which may list STPP as an ingredient. Unfortunately, it’s not mandatory for companies and sellers to do so.

Remember, consumers have the power. Start wielding yours today! Find out where the fish you’re ordering comes from, and how it’s produced, to help influence your local food system.

Read up more on STPP in our fact sheet, “What’s on Your Fish?” As always, if you have any questions, please post them here in our comments section and we’ll do our best to respond in a timely manner.

41 Comments on What is Sodium Tripolyphosphate Doing in Your Fish?

  1. Jane Peters says:

    I bought some cod fillets at Kroger the other day. And low and behold they have this chemical in them! I’ll never buy cod from Kroger again! I’m sick of this stuff!

    • Omega369g says:

      I bought those cod fillets at Kroger as well. Nasty!! I have been in the seafoods business 30 yrs. Worst thing I ever tasted. Couldnt finish eating them…. and the water. They were laden with water.

  2. Ivon says:

    OMG I just bought salmom at ALDI there is STPP and is from China. I am not consuming this fish. I give it to the dogs..geee… why are we getting all this shit in our food???

    • pdog7 says:

      Obama has expanded the govt. but not food inspection or monitoring. A piss ant grocer like ALDI can come from nowhere and start feeding us STPP on Salmon and not a damn thing you can do about that.

      • Gef Flimlin says:

        Two points….Obama is not the first one to underfund food inspections. And ALDI is no “piss ant” store. They are very big in Europe and I have been shopping in them in NJ for years. If you don’t like what you got in a store, go back to the store and tell the manager in a firm voice that you would like to continue to shop there but they need to address this issue of their fish.

  3. Marc says:

    FDA do your job!! Labeling is a basic function and consumer right. STPP and GMO should be required on the label… and sodium content should be based on 1,800 mg, as recommended, not the 2,200 you allow. Lobbying has ruined you FDA!!

  4. Michele says:

    I paid $12 for a pound of sea scallops. We sauteed them, cover off, but they weren’t browning in the oil/butter mixture. They were boiling in the juice made by the heated scallops. I put cumin on them to give them a bit of color. Now, cumin is a little bitter, but I can stick a wet finger in a bottle of cumin and suck on it and I will never get the bitter chemical taste that came from those scallops when they were finally on our plates. My dinner guest reminded me scallops are barnacles, and I said, well then, these barnacles were just scraped from a freshly painted boat. Later I googled “scallops and bitter” and guess what, I’m sure these things were overdosed with sodium tripolyphosphate. The uneaten scallops are going back to Safeway. I feel like telling the fish manager to eat one of them.

  5. Angie says:

    I have found that virtually all fish sold at Walmart and Aldi have this or some other type of chemical added “to retain color”. I also noticed that most are products of China, Taiwan, or Vietnam. I will NOT spend my money on these products anymore. A very informative documentary on the American food industry is Food Inc. (Netflix, Amazon Prime)

  6. jeff says:

    I bought salmon from china at walmart and found that it had stpp in it. We should do something about the food industry, I mean just the thought of the food and drug adminatration. Why are these two groups together!

    • ELLEN says:

      WHY ARE YOU BUYING SALMON FROM CHINA?????

      • Van Howell says:

        Why are you buying seafood from China? If it was the same brand of frozen Wild Alaskan Salmon I bought recently from Best Yet Market (a great store if you shop very carefully), there are big American flags on front and back, and the words “Great American Seafood” appear about a dozen times on the package. It’s only when you read the small print that you see the words sodium triphospate and China — you have to be looking for them. (I was looking because I’d just had a similar experience with what turned out to be a Chicken-Flavored Roast (with a big store label for weight and price covering that up… I had no idea you need to for ingredients in what appears to be chicken.)

        • Van Howell says:

          BTW, the Chicken Flavored Roast was from the America’s Choice Premium (higher price) line, bought at Waldbaum’s supermarket.

  7. Mariano says:

    I bought a bag of Tilapia Filets at Sams Club in D.C. and after consuming the fish several days I developed a “flu-like” symtom, chills, headache and a spike in my blood pressure to 220/110 which took me to the hospital – of course doctors were not able to figure out what had caused all this, but after reading the ingredients in the fish package which came from China my wife and I realized this had been caused by STPP. It would be convenient that the FDA re-consider the import of products coming from China or any other country using this harmful chemical.

  8. I guess I am a little slow on the STPP thing. I ate some frozen shrimp and when I woke up in the morning my feet were so swollen I could hardly bend my ankles. Oops, then I read the label and found out the STPP is used to make the fish hold water. It obvously worked on my whole system too. It too over 24 hours for my feet to return to normal. I imagine most other tissues in my body were water-logged.
    Buying frozen products and other packaged foods is becoming a chemistry nightmare.

  9. Mary says:

    I purchased a pound of scallops this week because they were labeled product of USA, wild caught. Ingredients were scallop and sodium tripolyphosphate, water. In checking out what tripolyphosphate was I am upset to think product from the USA was doing this. Big Disappointment!

  10. Dana Temple says:

    Everyone is complaining about chemicals in fish. Why does no one talk about meats and the hundreds of other products which contain these additives? Are you all being paid by the meat industry? EVERY ham has STPP in it, as does bacon, chicken , turkey and a host of others. You people should read the labels more carefully! Ultimately these additives are less harmful overall than the average soft drink. If you’re going to talk purist, grow your own vegetables, catch your own fish and slaughter your own cows. Otherwise accept tha fact that additives make more products accessible to more people. Peroiod.

    • Ana Ng says:

      Infuriating how the gov. will expound on everything but this. So few people know about the Monsanto free pass, its scary. How nice of the gov. to backtrack on spying, but to this day, there has been no press conference or other statement regarding what is going on behind closed doors about our food supply. Transparent my rear.

  11. Rob Day says:

    Read labels folks. If you have no idea what the ingredient is, then DO NOT buy it! Vote with your dollars. The same goes for your skin care products. Anything you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream within 26 seconds. Yes, the additives and chemicals put in our food/skin care supply (GMO’s as well) make them accessible to more people ata cheaper rate, but at what cost for future health? Cheap food/products now equals high medical expenses in the future. And no, we do not have to grow our own produce, slaughter our own cattle, catch our own fish…there are outlets for that as well. And, it is not as expensive as one believes. The only way we avoid taking responsibility for not doing the right thing, eating the right and healthy things or using the healthier products is by refusing to educate ourselves and toss the blame to those that manufacture the product. YOU decide where you shop, what you use and eat. No one else spends that money for you.

  12. Ford says:

    Sodium tripolyphosphate is a sodium salt of triphosphoric acid. It is manufactured in chemical laboratories by mixing disodium phosphate and monosodium phosphate.

    Sodium tripolyphosphate gives a fresh appearance to meat and seafood while slowing down spoilage. The chemical helps to preserve the natural color of meat and fish and improves their texture. This is done by improving the water-holding capacity of animal products and consequently slowing down their drying.

    It would be safe to say that many supermarkets, e.g. Walmart, Aldi, Price Chopper, etc have sodium tripolyphosphate in their fish and meat products. Check the labels and ask before purchasing these products.

    You can neutralize the smell by soaking in white vinegar; don’t buy the product, or take it back for a refund. Your voice speaks volumes to the food industry.

  13. Joseph says:

    Sodium Tripolyphosphate is also in Kraft macaroni & cheese. So look out. Its not just fish.

    • Don says:

      Ironically I just now found this out as I looked up a “word” on my box of Kraft Mac n Cheese. Seems we still can’t figure out why so many people get cancer.

      Anyway, looked up the word I couldn’t pronounce, and come to find out it’s an additive in detergent. Here I am eating it right now, and have done so for 40 years or more.

      Unbelievable……. there is just no where to hide unless you have LOTS of money to buy PURE organic.

      Us poor/mid class folks are doomed…..just doomed.

      God help us….

  14. Dan Hodul, PhD, CAC says:

    I read this stuff after eating a 4oz piece of salmon, “wild caught” in China, treated with 3NaPO4 or whatever the formula is for that stuff. It tasted a little off, so next time, I’ll try washing it in vinegar.
    I hope I live to go to work tomorrow. So far, no ill effects, but I’m a super-healthy ol’ guy, anyway, so maybe if it doesn’t kill me, it’ll make me stronger.

  15. Dan Hodul, PhD, CAC says:

    UPDATE: I got so sick later after eating the aforementioned salmon, I thought I would die! Hope this helps someone.

  16. Phil Rowley says:

    Sodium tripolyphosphate is NOT a pesticide and, as it is a non-volatile inorganic substance I fauil to see any way it can be an air contaminant !

  17. marie hofmann says:

    My heart started racing after I ate Salmon. After reading the
    label I found out it was the Tripolyphosphate added to the Salmon. I will never eat Salmon again, unless it is organic from
    a health food store.

  18. Susanne says:

    I bought some wild caught colossal shrimp at Trader Joe’s made in Mexico) and couldn’t wait to try them. Well, they tasted like soft cooked ice cubes, devoid of any shrimp flavor. Sure they were large and plump, but they tasted like plastic. And they were expensive! Please omit the tripolyphosphate!

  19. Purchased “wild caught sea scallops” (frozen) with the Kroger label. The scallops smelled just fine after defrosting and grilling…but when I sampled to test for “doneness”,they tasted as if they had been soaked in ammonia. This product DOES “list” sodium tripolyphosphate. Does this preservative make the fish inedible? I spit the chewed scallop into the toilet. Felt like I had been poisoned. Will never buy fish with this additive EVER AGAIN.

  20. LEONA HAINES says:

    we need someone or something to help the people
    getting sick from these chemicals put in food.
    it’s slowly killing us.

  21. bill says:

    my top ramen has stpp in it

  22. Mike c says:

    I work at whole foods seafood department. I am proud to say that none of our products contain sttp.

  23. Fred says:

    My wife had three shrimp soaked in this stuff. She Immediately broke out in hives. Hot, red faced, itchy. Went to ER where she received a large IV dose of steroid (prednisone) & a P’x for same. Although it came with a warning that some may be allergic she never had a reaction to shrimp before. How do you know your restaurant is serving it?

  24. Charles Lincoln Montes says:

    Lets all make a promise to ourselves to never buy anything but local fish. Farmers markets only.

  25. Rachelle says:

    Bottom line people, read your labels. You can’t blame anyone but yourselves. The government and the food industry care only about their pockets. They could care less about the consumers. The whole world cares about money. We are silly to even trust China, they treat their own like trash. The EU does not approve this junk because in the long run it would cost them more because of their free health care. They focus on prevention. The US however focus on treatment and what disease cost more to manage other than cancer?

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  27. Albert Andrus says:

    Dang! I just bought a 10 pound box of cod loins from Restaurant Depot. Not only do they have this sttp stuff, but they come from area 67 of the Pacific Ocean near Alaska that supposedly was contaminated by fallout from the Fukushima nuclear facility in japan.WTF??!!

  28. Grace says:

    It amazes me that nobody here seems to know about all the GMO’s and pesticides that are part of our food system? It’s amazing that people are clueless about this especially when there is a huge battle between we, the people and Monsanto & their government henchmen. Don’t you know that the FDA are their cohorts? They are set to “approve” genetically modified salmon. If you don’t know about this “genetics” process then you need to do some serious research. Our food supply is in the hands of the same people who create the pesticides. Is it any wonder why people are getting sicker and nobody has a clue as to why? Wake up people and get involved!

  29. kathy bock says:

    Thanks for all the information. My mother bought Pedigree dentabones and one of the ingredients was STPP. We all need to start watching the labels on dog and cat treats as well as our own food. With three dogs dying from cancer, we have become label readers. I don’t buy dog treats at the grocery anymore!

  30. Wade says:

    I haven’t read through all the comments above, but STPP isn’t really to make seafood look better. The real purpose for it is to add water weight, sometimes as much as 40 to 60%. I worked for a seafood distributor for 3 years. Part of my job was to process scallops 1 or 2 times a week. I would take @40# of scallops and put them in a container of about 10 gallons of water and added 8# of STPP and let them soak for about 24 hours. After which I would add a defoamer, made by the same company that made Agent Orange, then after an hour I would drain the leftover water then package the scallops in 1 gallon containers. After the first time I did this I stopped eating seafood unless I personally caught it.

    It’s not the grocery chains that do this, it’s the seafood distributors that they purchase from. The place I worked from supplied several grocery chains in our area.

    Processed scallops typically have a chalky white look to them and are slimy to the touch. Unprocessed scallops are sticky to the touch.

  31. Sharon Hampton says:

    How can we get involved affectively ? Should we make flyers and distribute in grocery store parking lots?

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