Puff, the Magic Fish That Can Kill You Dead

Almost all pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin

Mama always said, “Don’t take candy or sashimi from a stranger.” Mama also qualified her candy statement with something about life and a box of chocolates… That Mama. What a card.

Anyway, today, we’re looking at sashimi and specifically at pufferfish, which our research goddess Molly dialed into at http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/photos/8-poisonous-foods-we-commonly-eat/2-pufferfish

The story starts out with, “Whoever ate the first pufferfish must have been adventurous. (And most likely died shortly thereafter.)” We’d like to add, “Whoever at the SECOND pufferfish must not have been paying attention.”

That’s because, as the site tells us, “Almost all pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a deadly toxin that is up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. The poison in one pufferfish is enough to wipe out 30 humans, and there’s no known antidote.” Seriously. Why risk it? Right. And yet, it’s considered a prized dish in Japan, where it’s called fugu.

The chefs who prepare it must be licensed fugu handlers. But even the well-trained have their lapses: “… according to government figures, there were 23 deaths among 338 fugu poisoning cases recorded in Japan from 2000 to 2009.”

OK. Japan has put the kibosh on pufferfish liver. That you can’t buy – because it’s the most toxic part. But the European Union has actually banned the entire fish.

And yet… “Some people like to eat the fish with a tiny amount of toxin left in it. They feel a tingling in the lips, and it’s this effect that attracts people. But it’s a dangerous move, because if there is too much toxin, diners will soon experience something much worse. – Tetrododoxin does not cross the blood-brain barrier, so the victims remain fully conscious while their central nervous system gradually shuts down, first producing dizziness and incoherent speech, then paralysing the muscles. This can lead to asphyxia, and possibly death. (There is no antidote for fugu poisoning).” You can read the whole enchilada at http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-advice/how-to-eat-a-deadly-animal-without-dying/story-e6frfqfr-1226535413062

Here in the U.S., the FDA is advising consumers “only to eat puffer fish (also known as fugu, bok, blowfish, globefish, swellfish, balloonfish, or sea squab) from two known safe sources. The safe sources are 1) imported puffer fish that have been processed and prepared by specially trained and certified fish cutters in the city of Shimonoseki, Japan, and 2) puffer fish caught in the mid-Atlantic coastal waters of the United States, typically between Virginia and New York. Puffer fish from all other sources potentially contain deadly toxins and therefore are not considered safe.”

You can go to http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm085529.htm and read more, or you can do what we do and just listen to your mother. Seriously.


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