The Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory on Thursday to warn US consumers not to buy or eat imported fish labeled as monkfish as the fish can actually be puffer fish containing a potentially fatal toxin called tetrodotoxin.
The FDA said that the toxin in puffer fish can not destroyed by cooking or freezing. It can also be present on the skin or flesh of the fish and those who touch fish labeled as monkfish should carefully wash their hands.
The warning was issued after two people in the Chicago area became ill after eating soup made with the fish. One person was hospitalized due to severe illness, according to the FDA.
The FDA analyzed the fish, imported by Hong Chang Corp., Santa Fe Springs, California, and confirmed the presence of the potentially life threatening levels of tetrodotoxin.
Consumers who purchased monkfish are advised to contact their retailer and ask if their fish was received from Hong Chang Corp. and if it was it should be thrown away.
The company distributed a total of 282 22-pound boxes labeled as monkfish to wholesalers in Illinois, California and Hawaii beginning in September 2006, according to the FDA. These fish were then sold either to restaurants or sold in stores.
According to the FDA, at least one retailer seemed to know that the fish was puffer fish so he labeled it as bok, the Korean name for puffer fish.
Three panels on the boxes help (consumers, wholesalers or retailers?) identify the poisonous fish. Panel one reads "FROZEN MONKFISH GUTTED AND HEAD-OFF" and "PRODUCT OF CHINA." The second one gives nutritional facts and other information including "Ingredients: Monk fish; Imported by: Hong Chang Corp, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670; Product of China (P.R.C.).". The third panel has a checkbox checked to indicate that the size is either "o.5-1" or "1-2" and the net weight is 22 pounds.
There are no manufacturing codes on the box, or labels on the plastic bag used to individually pack the fish.
Symptoms of tetrodotoxin poisoning will show within 30 minutes to several hours of eating the fish. Initial symptoms include tingling of the lips and tongue. Tingling of the face and extremities and numbness follow as the toxin spreads. Other symptoms that follow include headache, balance problems, excessive salivation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Consumers who experience any of the symptoms after eating the mislabeled fish should seek immediate medical care and report their illness to local health authorities. In severe cases, death can result from the poisoning.
Imports of puffer fish are only allowed under certain provisions that minimize the risk of the toxin. The FDA said that the recalled fish were not imported in compliance with those provisions.