No Fake Lobsters Allowed
BANGOR DAILY NEWS, August 9, 2011 by Richard Dudman
Zabar’s deli and grocery on the Upper West Side in New York City has a
brilliant worldwide reputation online and in its shop for integrity and
the quality of its products. So do Maine lobsters, known for their
flavor, colorful appearance and superb flavor — as well as their
challenge to unfamiliar eaters.
Unfortunately, these two outstanding reputations have come into
conflict, although it is one that has been easily resolved. The
collision came to light when a columnist for the New Orleans
Times-Picayune, visiting with his family in New York, ordered "lobster
salad” on a bagel at Zabar’s. He found it delicious, but the pink or
orange tails seemed small for lobster and yet somehow familiar.
Suspecting material for a column,
Doug McCash checked the label. It listed the ingredients as "wild
freshwater crayfish, mayonnaise, celery, salt and sugar.” No mention of
lobster. Zabar’s manager was not available when Mr. McCash telephoned
for comment. But no matter, he had his column.
Enter the Maine Lobster Council. Dane Somers, the executive director,
quickly got on the case. He spoke by telephone first with the general
manager, Scott Goldshine, and finally with the owner, Saul Zabar, the
president and co-owner, a son of Louis and Lillian Zabar who founded the business 77 years ago.
Mr. Somers advised Mr. Zabar of the federal regulations that make
deliberate misbranding of food products a serious violation. The Food and Drug Administration
permits the use of the term "lobster” without qualification only for
the Homarus species, which includes the European and American lobsters.
Labeling other species, including langostino, crayfish or other
lobster-like species as "lobster” without qualification would cause the
product to be misbranded in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic
Act. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits advertising
or marketing other species as lobster without express qualification and
clear labeling as to the true species.
Mr. Zabar said his people were not aware that the labeling was
incorrect and would change the labeling in the future. He thanked Mr.
Somers for the information.
Mr. Somers had gotten into the matter with the belief that retailers
often are not aware of illegal mislabeling and usually are quick to
correct misleading language. He says, "We always contact the company
first to try to resolve things professionally, and we use that
opportunity to let them know we can assist them in securing a supplier
of the true Maine lobster in order to serve their customers with the
finest lobster in the world.”
So the council has done its duty of defending the distinction of
Maine lobsters. And Zabar is doing its duty of maintaining its own
Mr. Zabar might consider one further step. Zabar’s online recipe for
lobster fritters, which calls for "cooked lobster meat, cleaned and
small diced,” would be even better if it specified "Maine lobster” in
the ingredients and title.