Deadly delicacy: Pufferfish not fit to be consumed unless prepared by experts

12 Apr 2023 03:40pm
Pufferfish contain harmful toxins that can cause death in humans  - Photo: 123RF
Pufferfish contain harmful toxins that can cause death in humans - Photo: 123RF

SHAH ALAM - Pufferfish should not be consumed unless prepared by experts.

A senior lecturer in the Faculty of Sciences of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Dr Shantakumari Rajan explained that pufferfish contain a toxin called tetrodotoxin, which is very poisonous to humans.

Shantakumari, who is expertise in environmental health or more specifically environmental toxicology elaborated that the poison is contained in the fish's liver, intestines, ovaries, testes, and other internal organs.

“In humans, this toxin is a neurotoxic that can interfere with the proper functioning of nerves in the body, causing muscles to lose their ability to operate, leading to asphyxia and heart failure.

“There is no antidote for the poisoning. Hence if the amount of toxin ingested is too high the person will die,” she explained.

She added that some people may not be aware of the toxin in this fish.

“The government should enforce licensing. Anyone who wants to sell or trade this fish would need a license.

“This is to be able to trace the source and also make sure the public is aware of what type of fish they are purchasing ,” she explained.

A nutritionist from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Dr Mohd Redzwan Sabran commented that It is important to educate people so they know the type of fish and how to handle or prepare the fish.

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"For example, in Japan, certified individuals are allowed to prepare puffer fish into a delicacy such as for a special type of sashimi,” he explained.

Speaking on the current laws we have on restricted foods, lawyer Fatihah Jamhari explained that Malaysia has Section 13 of the Food Act 1983 that delegates authority to the health department to check the safety of any food material sold.

"I don't think we need stricter laws because Section 13a of the act already prohibits sales of foods that are unfit to consume

"I think we need common sense. Pufferfish is a common sighting if you go fishing in open waters. We always catch and release, never wanting to tempt fate with tasting or eating it

"You know it's poisonous, why bother trying especially buying from online sellers?, she questioned.

It was reported about a few days ago, that a woman died while her husband was treated at the intensive care unit (ICU) in Enche' Besar Hajjah Kalsom Hospital after eating a pufferfish meal last Saturday.

State Health and Unity Exco Ling Tian Soon said prior to her death, the woman had experienced shortness of breath and shivering at 3pm.

Due to this case, the Health Ministry has prohibited the sale of puffer fish for dining purposes as the fish contains dangerous toxins.

Its former director general, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said this was because a total of 58 cases of puffer fish poisoning had been reported since 1985, resulting in 18 deaths.

He said Section 13 of the Food Act 1983 clearly states the prohibition on selling any food that contains any poisonous, and dangerous substances that is harmful to health.

"This amendment has been discontinued considering the control of puffer fish sales is now under the Malaysian Fisheries Development Authority Act 1972.

The Health Ministry's Food Safety and Quality Division has prepared educational materials in its effort to increase the public's awareness about the harmful toxins in puffer fish.