Formaldehyde in Seafood

Formaldehyde is classified as a VAC, or Volatile Organic Compound. Formaldehyde has wide spread use in the world of manufacturing, and thus is found in many building materials and household items. Often, the formaldehyde is present in the solution Formalin, which acts as both a preservative and disinfectant, at the industrial level. This solution contains about 37% formaldehyde. Application of formaldehyde at the industrial level includes but is not limited to: Wood products, carpeting, cigarettes, fertilizers, cosmetic products, and preserved foods. Humans can be exposed to formaldehyde via ingestion, inhalation, or dermal contact. In a household environment, formaldehyde is most commonly inhaled. Apart from industrial applications and sources, formaldehyde is found in plants and animals, as well. Humans, plants, and animals contain a trivial amount of biological formaldehyde, which doesn’t adversely affect health; Rather, it acts as a metabolic intermediate. Fruits and vegetables that are known to contain some amount of formaldehyde include, but aren’t limited to: apples, bananas, cauliflower, pears, and shiitake mushrooms. Some animals, particularly sea venturing animals, contain trivial amounts of biological formaldehyde. These include, but aren’t limited to: cod, crustaceans, bombay duck, and noodle fish. In many Crustaceans and Marine-Fish, Formaldehyde is a natural byproduct of a chemical called trimethylamine-oxide, or TMAO. Upon the death and cold-storage of many species of marine fish and crustaceans, TMAO breaks down in to formaldehyde and dimethylamine. Although formaldehyde is banned as a preservative agent in food throughout many parts of the world, there are still cases of it being illicitly used, especially with respect to seafood preservation. An accurate means of testing for added levels of formaldehyde is to test for levels of dimethylamine and formaldehyde, together.

Regulations have been already set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). EPA monitors and regulates the presence of formaldehyde released into the air from automobile exhaust. On the other hand, FDA regulates the formaldehyde in food.

To test for the base level of formaldehyde, analysts use Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS). First, approximately 100 grams of fish is heated to 200 C following the addition of cysteamine solution to remove impurities. As a result of the reaction, a thiazolidine derivative forms after 30 minutes of equilibration. Then, extraction is done with methylene chloride. Silica gel will be used as the stationary phase for chromatography. The solution’s formaldehyde content will then be ready to be measured via GC/MS.

Read more

“ATSDR – Public Health Statement: Formaldehyde”.,2016

“Centre for Food Safety - Food Safety Focus - Formaldehyde in Food”.