Emergency Warning Over Toxic Pufferfish in Japanese City
Loudspeakers are located across the Japanese city of Gamagori, ready to warn the public in an instant of impending earthquakes.
On Tuesday, however, authorities were using the wireless emergency system not to warn of impending natural disasters, but of fish. Five portions of pufferfish, to be precise.
The poisonous pufferfish, “fugu” in Japanese, is safe to eat, but can only be sold with a license, after lethally toxic parts have been removed in preparation.
A supermarket in Gamagori, however, had sold five packages of the expensive delicacy without removing the liver, which is banned due to being mostly toxic, reported The Associated Press.
Local official Koji Takayanagi said, “We are calling for residents to avoid eating fugu, using Gamagori city’s emergency wireless system.”
Three packages had been located, but two are still missing, he said.
“Eating fugu liver can paralyze motor nerves, and in a serious case cause respiratory arrest leading to death,” regional officials said in a warning statement, reported The Japan Times.
The alarm was raised on Monday, Jan. 15, after someone bought one of the portions and took it to a health center, reported AP.
However, the loudspeaker alarms may have been more about fail-safe licensing laws than any real danger to life, according to the store.
Different varieties of blowfish accumulate toxins in different parts of their bodies to varying degrees.
The organs that can potentially accumulate the deadly toxin—such as the liver, ovaries, and skin—are banned as a catch-all measure.
According to AFP, the store told health authorities that it had been selling the liver of the particular kind of blowfish, called “yorito fugu,” for years. No health problems had been caused by liver sold at the store before, they said.
“Some of the blown fish are not deadly nor poisonous,” wrote Japanese journalist Sid Shigenori Ogura on a Facebook comment on a BBC report. “The blowfish “Yorito fugu” is such kind. Only few of Yorito-fugu may contain poison in it’s liver.”
“What the supermarket did was unlawful, though they only mistakenly followed their local tradition,” he wrote.
One of the packages had already been consumed, he noted, saying there were no reports of poisoning.
There is no known antidote to the poison in puffer fish, tetrodotoxin, which initially causes numbness around the mouth, before potential paralysis and death. Every year there are reports of people being poisoned by eating fugu in Japan, usually through domestic preparation.
According to the BBC, there were 23 deaths from fugu poisoning between 2000 and 2012.