The Toxic Puffer Fish: A Japanese Delicacy

There are 120 different species of the Puffer fish, which is also known as globe fish, swellfish and blowfish. The general name for the fish in Japan is fugu. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that the puffer fish can "produce rapid and violent death".

The puffer fish is a delicacy in Japan and a single serving can cost more than a $100. It tastes great, but could it kill you? There are 120 different species of the Puffer fish, which is also known as globe fish, swellfish and blowfish. The general name for the fish in Japan is fugu. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that the puffer fish can “produce rapid and violent death”.

Chefs must get a special license from the Department of Health in order to serve the puffer fish. In order to get this license they have to pass a written exam, prepare the fish using their technique and then eat it. Only 25% pass the test. I assume that if they die, they don’t pass.

What makes the puffer fish so poisonous? The fish contains a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. If the fish is not prepared properly and too much of this poison is ingested the end result is not good.

Even if Chefs are careful and take special care in preparing the puffer fish it could still cause numbness in the tongue or lips when eaten. More serious effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting and paralysis of the face and extremities. The most severe effects include acute paralysis, respiratory distress, convulsions, cardiac arrhythmia, speech impairment and death. The effects happen quickly and death can occur within one hour.

The puffer fish was banned from 1867-1912 in many areas and this is the only food that the Emperor of Japan is forbidden to eat it.  In 1958, the first year the special license was needed to prepare the puffer fish in Japan, 176 people died from poisoning.  Doctors have reported that the fish has also been used to commit suicide. The last reported poisoning was in 2011.  A 35 year old female received treatment for mild tetrodotoxin paralysis and later made a full recovery.

Medical advances have come a long way and the death rate from accidental puffer fish poisoning has dropped significantly over the years.  If you get the urge to take the risk and try the toxic puffer fish make sure you stick to licensed and reputable restaurants. Personally, I would want an ambulance on standby just in case.

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