Two Hospitalized After Eating Deadly Mislabeled Chinese Pufferfish

Two Chicagoans have been hospitalized after eating poisonous pufferfish that was imported to the US mislabeled as harmless monkfish. Pufferfish is a delicacy in Japan, but

“Chefs must be licensed and usually undergo at least two years of training on how to safely remove the toxic parts of the fish.

The FDA describes tetrodotoxin as “one of the most violent intoxications from marine species.”

The mislabeled pufferfish was sold to stores and restaurants in Illinois, California and Hawaii. The importer is currently recalling the fish. The boxes in question were labeled “monk fish, gutted and head off, Product of China.” If you’ve purchased monkfish lately and you live in these states, we’d recommend not eating it.

Tetrodotoxin paralyzes the muscles while the victim stays conscious, eventually suffocating to death. There is no antidote. According to wikipedia, each fish has enough poison to kill 30 adults. —MEGHANN MARCO

Monkfish recalled as 2 sickened in Chicago [Chicago Tribune] (Thanks, Sarah!)
Takifugu [Wikipedia]
(Photo: No Grand Design)


Edit Your Comment

  1. B says:

    “Poison, poison, tasty fish.”

  2. joeblevins says:

    At some point, you would hope the chef would be able to tell the difference between the fish he is preparing.

  3. Voyou_Charmant says:

    ror @ Americans eating poisoned/ous food.

    – China

  4. girlfriend 6.0 says:

    This vaguely reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons.

  5. cz1 says:

    “At some point, you would hope the chef would be able to tell the difference between the fish he is preparing.”

    Yes espacially as monkfish has what one might call a “unique” look and texture.

  6. humorbot says:

    It’s astonishing that it ever made it to the table as monkfish. They couldn’t look less similar, even to the layman. So no chef, wholesaler, or fishmonger at the market, even after a ripping bender, has any excuse to mistake the two fish.

    Google for a monkfish image and see.

  7. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    If there is no antidote…what could the hospital doing for them?

  8. vanilla-fro says:

    They look pretty different whole. not sure about head of and gutted. I’ve never seen a pufferfish with that done to it.

  9. B says:

    @msb2: One fish, two fish, red fish, blowfish.

  10. 44 in a Row says:

    Do they have any giant squid? The kind that drags men to their deaths?

  11. Crazytree says:

    China needs to be on notice.

    Only American food companies are allowed to poison Americans.

  12. Frank Grimes says:

    This from NPR this morning:

    “Experts say the FDA has about 650 food inspectors to cover 60,000 domestic food producers and 418 ports of entry.

    The agency plans to close nearly half of its 13 food-testing labs.

    All that means food safety depends on the vigilance of food companies operating in a fast-changing world. Many companies may not know much about their suppliers.”

    Here’s the entire story:

    **sigh** reason number 857 demonstrating the current administration loves private industry and all things from China and hates its citizens.

  13. Schlarg says:

    @AlteredBeast: Respirator maybe?

  14. WNW says:

    @B: Fugu Me!

  15. Brutuslebee says:

    I would like to hear from Bunnyfoofoo on this storyline.

  16. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:



  17. lincolnparadox says:

    No antidote means that there’s no drug they can give you to counteract the effects of the poison. All they can do is treat symptoms.

    Well, only the skin, liver and gonads are really poisonous in Fugu. Treatment includes activated charcoal/stomach pump. They then have to intubate you to keep you breathing, and then keep you on drugs to keep your heart beating.

    You’ve got a 50-50 survival chance, but if you make it past the 1st 24-hours, you’re probably going to be ok. The quicker you get to a hospital, the better.

    Still, this article seems to be keyed into a growing anti-Chinese import sentiment. I’m sure we get an equal amount of nasty food from other countries, but why the focus on China? Is it because of the pet food thing? Seriously, 250 pets died from bad pet food. It sucks, but how many people have died from bad Chinese produce/juices/fish?

    Maybe 2, now. But does that mean that we should break trade ties with the whole country? What we should be doing is hiring more inspectors. Both to keep our food safe, and keep our ports safe.

  18. lincolnparadox says:

    @AlteredBeast: Sorry, AB, your body eventually clears the poison out. Sorry for the double.

  19. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Ah okay, thanks for the clarifcation. I’m not to savy on my poisons.

  20. dariaclone says:

    I wish that article had told the restaurant the fish was served at. As the above commenters noted, one would hope a chef could tell the difference. So, I would prefer to avoid the sushi restaurant where the chef did not.

  21. bbbici says:

    mmm-hmmm monkfish flesh is very distinctive looking, kind of gross actually, like something out of a david cronenberg movie.

  22. Buran says:

    @lincolnparadox: The focus is on China because they have safety standards that are apparently far too lax and because they have companies that knowingly use diethylene glycol (which is a known poison) as a replacement for glycerine (which is known to be safe).

    And yet we still allow these people to send us food? Why are we allowing known poisoners to contribute to our food supply?

  23. superlayne says:

    @Buran: They’re cheap.

  24. timmus says:

    I wish that article had told the restaurant the fish was served at.

    Article: “Both people ate the fish in homemade soup, officials said.”

    But the article would certainly be helpful if it identified who sold the fish. That’s what we count on journalists for. Without any information, I might as well just avoid everything from Gorton’s Fish Sticks to Chinese market fish.

  25. junkmail says:

    Still, this article seems to be keyed into a growing anti-Chinese import sentiment.

    Ever read Clancy?

  26. BritBoy says:

    @Buran: Why are we allowing known poisoners to contribute to our food supply?

    ‘Cos its cheap.

  27. CumaeanSibyl says:

    What gets me is that fugu is really expensive in Japan, whereas I don’t think monkfish is in such high demand… so whoever these Chinese fishmongers are, they aren’t too bright.

    Unless, of course, they broke Japanese regulations meant to prevent overfishing of fugu, and thus had to dump a couple boatloads of blowfish that they couldn’t sell as such. Which is also pretty damn dumb.

  28. Hoss says:

    First I was thinking there must be a restaurant in Tokyo with lots of monkfish saying WFT — but this is 280 cases of fish. Not a small mistake. Can you even legally import pufferfish (as food)?

  29. Charles Duffy says:

    @lincolnparadox: There have been hundreds of deaths in Panama caused by cough syrup imported from China. This is more than 2 humans and a bunch of pets.

  30. Crazytree says:

    @Hossofcourse: I don’t know if it is regulated at this point, due to the rarity of this type of fish on a dinner menu. However, I do know for a fact of a $$$$ Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles that served this type of fish on a regular basis.

    It sounds like this was an attempt to bring in fugu under the radar, and a mixup resulted in unintended consumers consuming an unintended toxic fish that did not have its poisonous organs properly removed.

  31. humorbot says:

    Even with the head off, so long as the carcass was intact and the skin on, you can tell it ain’t no monkfish. Besides, monkfish are big and flat. Blowfish are small and… not flat. Monkfish are oily. Blowfish are lean. Even if the stuff arrived already portioned, you’d know it wasn’t monkfish, even if you couldn’t necessarily be sure it was blowfish.

    This is pretty suspect. Seems it was impossible the fish was served at a restaurant. It must have been for sale, mis-labeled, at a market. And yes, it’s absolutely critical that the source of the fish be disclosed.

    The cough syrups deaths in Panama-around 50-occurred last year. The recent news relates to a toxin in toothpaste produced in China that has made it way to Panama and elsewhere around the world. So far no deaths have resulted.

    Personally, while there’s no doubt that food production in China is unreliable, this kerfuffle about Chinese exports does strike me as xenophobic, not to mention hypocritical. Dramatically centralized agribusiness-coupled with a USDA and an FDA that spend a helluva lot more time looking our for the corporations they’re supposed to regulate rather than consumers-has resulted in a domestic food supply that’s incredibly vulnerable to all manner of food-born catastrophe. It’s a logistics problem:

    Food from numerous, geographically disparate sources is merged and centrally processed on a grand scale, then widely distributed. The provenance of your meal is virtually impossible to determine should you get sick.

    Eat local, friends.

  32. bokononist says:

    Humorbot: I have to disagree a bit. If you look at the FDA seizure reports, you’ll see that there’s far more adulterated food from China than from anywhere else.

    It’s not xenophobic: an administration that gave a shit about the people would push China to step up its food safety standards, and would ensure that it gets stepped-up by increasing the number of inspections.

  33. Crazytree says:


    “a USDA and an FDA that spend a helluva lot more time looking our for the corporations they’re supposed to regulate rather than consumers”

    Imagine how much you think the FDA and USDA are concerned for our well-being… divide that by about 300,000x and that is the level of concern for the well-being of Americans demonstrated by Chinese business and gov’t.

  34. Hoss says:

    @Crazytree: my conclusion is the same as yours, particularly where the fish was served as a soup which (I recall) is how one would service pufferfish. If we are right, there was probably a consistent problem which has made news by the chinese food/product issues lately.

  35. Chicago7 says:

    Why don’t they say what restaurant it was? I’m not going out for fish, but I could warn friends.

  36. Chicago7 says:

    I hate to say, but I mistrust the Bush administration so much that I almost think this could be a misguided amateur Bush-appointee’s attempt to stop imports from China.

    /geez, that’s sad.

  37. Crazytree says:

    @Chicago7: Smart money is on Long John Silver’s.

  38. ahwannabe says:

    What, and risk losing all that sweet, sweet Wal-Mart payola, I mean, campaign funding?

  39. jwissick says:

    China can’t spread the commie revolution to the US so they decide to poison us instead??? I think it is boycott time.

  40. DingoDigger says:

    You’re going to boycot … China? Good luck with that one.

  41. zentec says:

    What you’re seeing is the solution to the trade imbalance. China is working on taking itself out of producing any food or drug products that will move on the American market.

    Of course, the importers will probably obscure country of origin labels or further diminish the consumer’s ability to figure out where the product was made.

  42. nucleotide says:

    Have you been to China? I’m not talking Beijing, Shanghai or Qingdao tourist traps. I’m talking manufacturing cities. I have. Do you know about the lack of workers rights, and unsafe working conditions, and corrupt, unethical nature of business managers there?

    Business in China is very corrupt. If there is a way to cut corners they will do it regardless of safety. A lot of workers and entrepreneurs are straight off the farm and have little knowledge about industrial safety standards. Combine that with little to no government oversight and you have a disaster waiting to happen. Some workers are slaves literally locked in factories. I know people that have had to escape the extremely harsh conditions of a brick making factory where they were held by force.

    My parents are expats in China and are trying to take a factory and bring it up to US quality standards. This means forcing them not to dump shit in the river. Preventing workers from repairing dangerous machinery while it running. Raising worker’s pay 300% from what the prior owner was paying. The factory is completely owned and managed by the US company. This give complete control of the quality of the product. If other US company’s did the same it would help increase standards and educate the business community in China.

  43. humorbot says:

    To zirkus (and crazytree, bokononist, etc.):

    Do you know about the lack of workers rights, and unsafe working conditions, and corrupt, unethical nature of business managers [in China]?”

    Yes, I do. I’m not defending China. While I haven’t been there, I’m aware that labor abuse and corruption are rampant. I’m just suggesting that we apply equal public scrutiny to ourselves, not to mention engage in a broader and more honest discussion about what allows such abuses to persist. Conditions like those you describe exist in the fields and food production facilities of the U.S. as well.

    I reject the notion that the U.S., with its first-world wisdom and love for the working man in tow, ought to sweep into China or anywhere else and set things right when the homeland consumer is at risk. This is cultural imperialism. Assholes and opportunists, in business as in life, come from everywhere.

    I support rigorous inspection and regulation of all agricultural products, both domestic and imported, from field to table. More importantly, I believe, we must be conscious consumers. The abuses of capitalism depend on ignorance.

    One of the key reasons labor abuse is so prevalent in China and manufacturers “cut corners […] regardless of safety” is because U.S. consumers expect artificially low prices. Most of us prefer not to think about why all that garbage for sale in Wal-Mart is so cheap. But we sure as hell won’t stop buying it…

  44. lincolnparadox says:

    Sorry, I had forgotten about the antifreeze in the cough syrup story. I guess the point I was trying to make was why isn’t the press focused on demanding better inspection standards. Isn’t that what the FDA is for? Shouldn’t they hook up with the Port Authority and protect American consumers?

  45. MommaShenobi says:

    It was antifreeze in toothpaste from China. Check out the listed origin on all products.

    According to what I have read products such as toothpaste and other food related tiems coming from China can be found in the Dollar Stores.

  46. nighthwk1 says:
  47. Ncisfan says:

    They treat them with Activated Charcoal & anti-cholinesterases