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Sale Of Pufferfish With Poisonous Toxins Prohibited In Malaysia, Says Health DG

Sale Of Pufferfish With Poisonous Toxins Prohibited In Malaysia, Says Health DG

Pufferfish that contain dangerous toxin tetrodotoxin are not allowed to be sold here.

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Pufferfish, which contain a dangerous neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, is not allowed to be sold in Malaysia, said health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

The Malay Mail reported that the sale of the pufferfish is controlled under the Malaysian Fisheries Development Authority Act 1972 and that Section 13 of the Food Act 1983 prohibits the sale of any food that has any poisonous substances, harmful or otherwise injurious to health.

The pufferfish is a delicacy in Japan, but only experienced and highly trained chefs are allowed to prepare it to be served and eaten. Malaysia does not have that expertise and regulation.

This news comes in the wake of reports that an elderly woman in Johor died of poisoning last Saturday (25 March) after eating cooked pufferfish with her husband.

READ MORE: Johor Couple’s Pufferfish Purchase Via Facebook Takes Deadly Turn

Her husband is still receiving treatment in the Intensive Care Unit. According to The Star, the couple’s daughter, Ng Ai Lee, 51, said her father is still in a coma and the hospital is trying to treat the infections in his body.

The doctor has advised the family to prepare for the worst because he might not be the same if he managed to pull through.

Ng said her parents didn’t know they were eating a poisonous pufferfish, known as the “drumstick fish” in Chinese.

Her father allegedly bought the fish from a fishmonger they’d known for years, so he didn’t think twice about buying it.

He would not have knowingly bought something so deadly to eat and put their lives in danger.

Ng Ai Lee told The Star
Image: TRP File

Dr Hisham said data from the Disease Control Division of the Ministry of Health (KKM) showed that 58 pufferfish poisoning incidents involving 18 deaths were reported in Malaysia between 1985 and March 2023.

KKM’s Food Safety and Quality Division (FSQD) had also produced educational materials to increase awareness of the dangerous toxins in puffer fish.

Hisham added that an FQSD survey in 2019 showed that 86% of the respondents comprised of the public, fishmongers, fishermen, and cooks, had sufficient knowledge of the dangers of consuming puffer fish.

Do we have pufferfish in Malaysian waters?

According to the Fisheries Department, the commonly caught pufferfish are from the Lagocephalusia species which are banana pufferfish, including Lagocephalus wheeleri, Lagocephalus spadiceus, and Lagocephalus lunaris (this green pufferfish is noted for its bright yellow tail).

The Department added that the total landing of pufferfish in Malaysia in 2020 was around 1,337 tonnes, with the highest landing in Perak (804 tonnes), followed by Sarawak (228 tonnes) and Sabah (192 tonnes).

University Malaysia Terengganu vice-chancellor Mazlan Abd Ghaffar said not all pufferfish species are poisonous such as the thorny or spiny pufferfish, which is widely sold in Sabah and the Philippines market, The Star reported.

In Sarawak, there’s a festival in Betong that’s dedicated to the fish called “Pesta Ikan Buntal.”

Meanwhile, in Sabah, there’s a dish called “sagol” or”sinagol” that’s popular among the Bajau and Suluk ethnicities, which commonly consists of pufferfish meat and liver cooked in spices and turmeric.

However, it’s still safer not to eat pufferfish, especially for the untrained eye.

Can tetrodotoxin be destroyed by cooking?

Tetrodotoxin can’t be destroyed by high heat. When consumed, the toxin will attack the nerves and can lead to death.

Academy of Sciences Malaysia fellow Prof Mustafa Ali said tetrodotoxin is commonly found in the liver, ovaries, skin, and muscles of the pufferfish.

The toxin acts as a sodium blocker and inhibits minerals’ mobility through the cell membrane, which then leads to muscle paralysis.

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