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What does it mean if a fish oil is IFOS tested and why does it matter?

You wouldn’t rush to see a movie awarded one-star by the critics. You’d think twice about eating in a restaurant with only a two-star hygiene rating. And you probably wouldn’t book the hotel with all the one-star TripAdvisor reviews, no matter how glitzy it looked in the brochure.

Ratings matter in all areas of our consumer life. But when it comes to fish oils, third-party testing by an independent body is essential. Otherwise all you’d have to go on is the manufacturer’s marketing hype. And let’s face it, they’re all going to claim their product is pure, fresh and bursting with Omega 3.

According to nutritionist Melanie Brown"searching for the best and purest fish oil in a crowded market can be a bewildering process. So checking the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) website for one with a 5-star rating ensures it's free from contaminants and of maximum purity, as well as containing a high concentration of the valuable long chain Omega 3 fatty acids".

Here at Bare Biology we’re extremely proud of our five-star IFOS rating because when it comes to fish oils, it’s the highest possible accolade. But who are IFOS? What do they test? And what does an IFOS five-star rating actually mean when it comes to the important stuff - the amount of Omega 3 you’re getting in every dose?

Read on for an in-depth look at the independent testing of fish oils and discover how the IFOS rating is the only way of really knowing what’s in your bottle.

What is IFOS?

IFOS stands for International Fish Oil Standards and it’s the only third-party testing and certification program for fish oils. The IFOS program is delivered by NutraSource Diagnostics, a research organisation at the University of Guelph in Canada.

IFOS are independent because they don’t manufacture or market fish oil themselves and they don’t endorse any brands either. They simply test each oil by batch and publish the results on their website. And unlike other testing companies like ConsumerLab, the results are open to the public for free.

Why is an IFOS rating so important when it comes to fish oil?

IFOS is well-respected for its high standards, full disclosure and transparency. Rigorous and thorough, they have even stricter standards than those set by the government and other organisations. In fact they set the world’s highest standards for purity, potency and freshness.

An IFOS rating means that when a manufacturer claims its fish oil is pure, you don’t need to take their word for it, because the organisation who set the bar can prove it to you.

Bare Biology were the first British brand to be certified by IFOS.

Why is it so important that fish oil is third-party tested by a body like IFOS?

How would you feel if the sunscreen you were using said SPF 50 on the bottle, but in fact it was only factor 10 and wasn’t giving you the protection you thought you were buying? You’d probably be annoyed about being mis-sold on the quality, but also pretty worried about what that means for your health.

Being truthful about the quality of fish oils is just as important, especially as it’s a product you consume. When a fish oil is IFOS certified it shows you the product has met their high standards. This means you, the customer, can be certain of the safety and quality of the fish oils you and your family are taking.

How can you find the IFOS rating of your fish oil?

The IFOS website offers a search feature for consumers. You can use it to check whether the fish oil you’re planning to buy is certified and find out how it rates in terms of purity, freshness and strength. It allows you to search by product, company or even lot number, because they publish consumer reports for each and every batch of fish oil a manufacturer submits to them.

If you want to check your own fish oil, look up the batch code on your product and type it into the website to bring up its consumer report online.

If the company selling the fish oil is transparent and proud of their product (like we are) they will publish the full results on their own website too. As far as we know, we’re the only company that does this and you can download ours here.

“The best way to know you're taking a high-quality fish oil supplement is to check the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) website. A five-star rating ensures the fish oil contains a high concentration of Omega 3 fats and the absolute lowest levels of oxidation and harmful contaminants.”Nutritionist Kim Pearson, talking to Netdoctor

What is the legal requirement on fish oil testing?

While an IFOS rating is not a legal requirement, all fish oil manufacturers are supposed to have a ‘certificate of analysis’ which is a detailed report of the test results they must carry out on every batch of their product. But if they’re not proud of what it contains, they may not share their certificate of analysis with you, or they’ll shroud its results in terminology so vague you’re not sure quite what it means.

Bare Biology is the only company we know of that publishes full certificates of analysis for every single batch. We have absolutely nothing to hide. We’re pure and proud of it.

What does IFOS test for?

The IFOS program tests fish oil products batch by batch for contaminants, freshness and the levels of active ingredients it contains. Here’s a closer look at each one...

IFOS tests for freshness

If you’ve taken a fish oil supplement that tastes fishy and spent the rest of the day burping it up, this is a sure sign that it has oxidised and turned rancid.

Not only does rancid fish oil taste unpleasant it can also be harmful. Oxidation changes the chemical structure of EPA and DHA and can potentially turn them into pro-inflammatory free radicals.

Certain types of fats, especially long-chain polyunsaturated ones like fish oil, are very prone to oxidation. This is measured in tests using the ‘peroxide value’, something that’s shown in the certificate of analysis. The peroxide value is a measure of the reaction of oxygen with the fat and should be less than 5meq/kg (milliequivalent per kilogram).

At Bare Biology, when we take delivery of our pristine fish oil in its big drum, the peroxide value is incredibly low, at 0.4 meq/kg. It’s so fresh, it literally doesn’t smell of anything other than a mild scent of the sea.  

As soon as the oil is handled to mix in the lemon oil and decant into bottles, it’s exposed to oxygen. We do this extremely carefully and use nitrogen (a common, harmless practice) to reduce the exposure as much as possible. However a degree of oxidation is inevitable and the addition of flavour affects the test results, so we finish with a result of around 4 meq/kg. Which is still very low and not very fishy.

But not all manufacturers are quite as careful. If fish oil is not handled properly or stored in unsuit­able conditions, like somewhere that’s too hot or humid, it can quickly turn rancid.

IFOS is the only program that tests fish oil products by batch to ensure they are stable and fresh for consumption. That’s why Bare Biology is so proud of its five-star IFOS rating - it means you can be sure that our oils are fresh, non-fishy and will never repeat on you.

IFOS tests for strength

If you want your fish oil supplement to have a real benefit it needs to contain decent amounts of EPA and DHA. This isn’t always easy to find out as many supplements bury this information in the small print of their labels or websites.

Our clinical strength Lion Heart fish oil contains 3,500mg of Omega 3 (2,000mg of EPA, 1,000mg of DHA and 500mg of other Omega 3s) in every teaspoon, while a daily dose of four of our tiny Lion Heart capsules contain 1,460mg of Omega 3 (860mg of EPA and 440mg of DHA).

We’re proud of our high-strength Omega 3 fish oil and totally transparent about the level of active ingredients it contains. But our IFOS report means you don’t just have to take our word for it. IFOS is the only program that tests fish oil products by batch to make sure that they contain the amount of active ingredients stated on the label.

How to read an IFOS fish oil report

When you look at an IFOS report you know exactly what’s in your batch of fish oil. Each report has a level of detail that you simply will not find anywhere else.

If yours is a five-star-rated oil you know you’re getting a really good product. Fish oils with this  perfect rating have passed all the IFOS testing categories meaning they have met the organisation’s incredibly high quality standards.

But what does a five-star rating actually mean? According to IFOS, for a fish oil to get all five stars it has to:

Pass all of the IFOS testing categoriesMeet the label claim for active ingredient concentrationHave an oxidation level less than 75% of CRN standardHave PCB levels at less than 50% of CRN standardContain dioxin levels that are less than 50% of WHO standard

So why is an IFOS rating so important?

For manufacturers it’s a big deal to pass an IFOS test with flying colours. Brands that get their fish oil tested at IFOS have to pay extra to publish the findings, so if the results aren’t good, they just won’t tell you about them.

This really helps you as a consumer to pick the brands of fish oil that are both confident and transparent about their products. You can be sure that any company that has its products tested at IFOS are both picky about quality and happy to be completely honest about the results.

The IFOS program sets the bar in terms of the purity, potency and freshness of fish oils. That’s why, at Bare Biology, we’re so proud of our five-star IFOS rating. We were the first British brand to be certified by IFOS and like to think we set the benchmark for high-quality fish oils in the UK.

All our products are pure, fresh and strong. But there’s no need to just take our word for it. You can go and see the product results for yourself at the IFOS website or read the results on our own website here.