Action 9: Central Florida restaurants that serve mislabeled fish to diners

by: Todd Ulrich, Gerry Mendiburt Updated:

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Action 9 exposed dozens of Central Florida restaurants selling mislabeled fish that could sicken patrons.

Diners ordered a certain type of tuna but were served another kind of fish altogether.

Action 9's Todd Ulrich investigated the health risk and found that some restaurants still mislabel fish after being caught by state inspectors.

Read: Dirty Restaurants: See which Central Florida restaurants made the list

The Asian Buffet served a white tuna sushi roll. Shawn Livermore raced to the emergency room hours later.

"I was in a lot of pain," Livermore said. "I was hurting. I was feeling sick and nauseous."

A doctor blamed her extreme symptoms on something that she ate.

Photos: Action 9 exposes dirty restaurants in Central Florida

Livermore called the restaurant manager and asked about the white tuna she ate, which was actually escolar -- a cheaper fish that the Food and Drug Administration said may cause symptoms similar to food poisoning.

"And I was like, 'Oh, no; oh, no; oh, no,'" Livermore said. "I knew there was definitely something wrong."

The restaurant has since closed.

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Action 9 learned that restaurants across Central Florida have been caught selling mislabeled fish that could sicken diners.

Action 9 studied thousands of state inspections and found that 66 Central Florida restaurants were cited for selling hidden escolar since 2007.

An inspector found that Sushi Hibachi on South John Young Parkway had advertised white tuna but sold escolar.

Read: Tuna recalled over possible hepatitis A contamination

Todd Ulrich spotted white tuna on its menu.

"A state inspector found that violation then and here it is again," Ulrich said. "Isn't this escolar?"

"I don't know," an employee said. The owner later said it was escolar.

An inspector found in 2015 that Orange County's Suki Hanna mislabeled the fish.

Read: Action 9: Crackdown on Central Florida's dirtiest restaurants

Ulrich recently ordered white tuna from its takeout menu.

"I think that fish is really something else, and it could make someone sick," Ulrich said. "And we're back here finding the same thing."

"We need to change our menu," the manager said.

One fish that was ordered was listed as escolar on Ulrich’s bill, but the other was called white tuna.

Read: Headless 400-pound tuna found in woods

Food safety experts said regulations require accurate menus to protect diners’ health.

"These are the reasons we have the labeling laws on food products," said Dr. Kevin Murphy, of the University of Central Florida. "We have truth in advertising and truth in menu."

Action 9’s review of state inspection records found that some restaurants substitute snapper and grouper for cheaper whitefish, but escolar was the most common violation.

Read: Action 9 exposes Central Florida's dirtiest restaurants

"It makes me mad, real mad," Livermore said.

Of the four restaurants with past violations that Action 9 tested, each had white tuna on its menu.

State inspectors consider mislabeling a basic violation for which restaurants aren't fined.

Read: Action 9 investigates emergency restaurant closures

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