Last week’s fish

Country/area: Finland

Organisation: Helsingin Sanomat HS.fi

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 17 Dec 2020

Credit: Pauliina Siniauer, Katja Nordlund, Boris Stefanov, Jukka Himanen, Sanna Maskulin

Project description:

This investigative story looked into the quality of fresh fish that is being sold in the supermarkets. Lab tests showed that 25% of the fish was not good quality: the fish was so old the rotting bacteria levels had grown over the limits. Another big problem we encountered, was that it’s really hard to find out when the fish was catch. When asked, the sellers often told the day they received it. Time between catching and receiving can be anything up to 10 days. By the law, the fish sellers, don’t have to have the catch day displayed.  

Impact reached:

The story was published just before Christmas when people were thinking which fish to buy for the holidays. Many were shocked of the results and we got tons of feedback – this time 95% positive, readers thanking for the good service journalism. We even got thanks from the national health inspectors. Some fish sellers told they will check/change the suppliers. Readers learn the importance of asking the catching day.  

Techniques/technologies used:

Information requests and lab testing. We FOIA’d lab tests the nation health inspectors had done to supermarkets to test the quality of fish the previous year. After seeing the results, we chose 12 supermarkets from Helsinki we know people use a lot, and picked three fish varieties we know people also consume raw (salmon, pike-perch, whitefish), that increases the risk of listeria. Besides checking the rotting bacteria (that the national inspectors had done), we checked listeria and found it from 4 of the samples. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

To choose which places and fish to test. Obviously, we would have wanted to test much more, but lab testing is very expensive. For collecting the fish samples in tight time frame from all around the city, and to keep the samples in ice required good planning and three people to run around. 

What can others learn from this project?

The food inspection data is available via information requests, and it can reveal systematic problems in the quality surveillance. 

Project links: