FDA details safe sources for imported puffer fish

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released consumer and industry advisories regarding safe sources of puffer fish.

Many puffer fish, also known as fugu, bok, blowfish, globefish, swellfish, balloonfish, or sea squab, contain deadly toxins that affect the central nervous system, if consumed.

Puffer fish can be safely consumed when special care is taken to ensure that the fish caught are free of toxins, or when they are processed to eliminate the toxins.

"Over the past year, several illnesses have been linked to puffer fish improperly processed and illegally imported into the United States," said Robert Brackett, Ph.D., director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "If restaurateurs, retailers, and consumers follow the advice the FDA is providing, puffer fish can be safely enjoyed."

The only safe sources for imported puffer fish are fish that have been processed and prepared by specially trained and certified fish cutters in the city of Shimonoseki, Japan. Additionally, puffer fish caught in the mid-Atlantic coastal waters of the United States, typically between Virginia and New York, are safe to consume. Puffer fish from all other sources can either naturally contain deadly toxins or become toxic because of environmental factors and therefore are not considered safe.

Symptoms of ingesting the toxins found in puffer fish include tingling around the lips and in the extremities followed by problems speaking, loss of balance, muscle weakness and paralysis, vomiting, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, there may be respiratory paralysis that can lead to death.

Consumers should ask about the origin of the fish before ordering or buying. In cases where the source is uncertain or unknown, consumers should not eat the puffer fish.

Establishments that serve or sell puffer fish, including restaurants and fish markets, should obtain the product from a known safe source.

FDA officials are working with state and local health officials, along with food safety organizations, to raise awareness about the industry advisory to restaurants, fish markets, and food stores.

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