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US Consumers Warned Against Toxic Chinese Fish

First pet food, then tooth paste and now fish. There just seems to be no end to the troubles for Chinese exporters.

Only two days ago the US put on hold all imports of Chinese toothpaste till the FDA comes out with its finding on whether it contains diethylene glycol, a chemical commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid.

Now the agency is warning that packages of fish imported from China into the United States and labelled as monkfish intended for consumers to eat, could actually be puffer fish containing the deadly toxin tetrodotoxin.

The warning comes in the backdrop of reports that two people in Chicago became ill after eating soup made with the fish. One was taken to hospital.

While the FDA allows puffer fish to be imported into the US, it is only under strict terms to minimize the risk of the fish being toxic. These mislabelled puffer fish were not imported under these terms and the FDA is currently chasing all imports from the Chinese supplier.

The agency advised consumers not to buy or eat the mislabelled fish. Eating the puffer fish could cause serious illness and even death, it said.

Consumers should neither eat nor handle the fish but throw it away. The tetrodotoxin could be either on the fish skin or in the flesh. They should wash their hands thoroughly if they handle the fish.

The FDA says it has analysed samples of the puffer fish and confirm that it does contain potentially life-threatening levels of tetrodotoxin.

The product was imported into the US by the California-based Hong Chang Corp, of Santa Fe Springs.

Tetrodotoxin is not destroyed by cooking or freezing, people are told, if you are worried that you have bought this fish, go back and ask the retailer if the product came from Hong Chang Corp or check with the corporation itself directly.

People who eat food containing tetrodotoxin start to get symptoms between 30 minutes and several hours later. At first they get tingling sensations in the lips and tongue, then tingling in the whole face and the extremities, followed by numbness.

Further symptoms include: headache, problems with balance, too much saliva, feeling nauseous, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

If you get these symptoms you should see a doctor immediately and also report your illness to the local health authorities, advises FDA.

In very severe cases muscles become paralyzed, including the respiratory muscles, which can lead to death.

Nearly 300 boxes of 22 pounds of the mislabelled fish were distributed from September onwards to wholesalers in Illinois, California and Hawaii from which they were sold on to restaurants and retailers.

One retailer has labelled the fish as "bok", the Korean name for puffer fish.

Meanwhile this week in the UK, it has been reported that supermarket giant ASDA has stopped selling monkfish because of the threat to stocks and the unsustainable way it is being caught.

They have asked celebrity chefs to stop promoting the deep-sea fish as the method most used to harvest it (beam trawling) is damaging underwater habitats.

Puffer fish is becoming an increasingly popular delicacy in the US. But the country most people associate with the puffer fish, also known as blowfish, is Japan where it is called "fugu". In Japan about 100 to 200 people get poisoned by eating puffer fish every year, and about half of them die.

A restaurant meal of fugu in Japan is expensive, and not only because of the fish, but because chefs have to have a special licence to prepare the dish.


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