Poisonous Blowfish Causes Emergency Alerts in Japan

Will the authorities track recover the goods in time?

By Ethan L. Johns
January 17, 2018

Image: Aichi Prefectural Government Department of Health and Public Welfare/NPR

People always say that you’ve got to find a fishmonger that you trust in order to get the best, freshest goods. A recent fiasco in Japan has taken that conventional wisdom and underlined it with a king-sized, chisel-tipped, permanent black marker.

City officials are on high alert after a supermarket in Gamagori, Japan, illegally sold five containers of blowfish—poisonous parts and all—last week. Five containers of the fish—known as fugu—were sold before a customer brought one to a health center, according to the Associated Press.

At that point, the city’s emergency alert system was activated, broadcasting that residents should avoid eating fugu from the supermarket in question. Two more packages have since been turned in, while officials continue to search for the two that remain missing.

The supermarket had failed to remove the livers of the blowfish, which contain a high concentration of the neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. Tetrodotoxin quickly paralyzes its victims before causing asphyxiation. Unfortunately for them, they get to stay conscious for the whole thing, knowing that here is no cure. Cheerio, then!

Blowfish is a winter delicacy in Japan, where it is served grilled, raw as sashimi or stewed in a hot pot. The appeal is as much for the taste as it is for the danger of it all—some claim to feel their lips tingle from residual amounts of the toxin leftover after preparation. In order to serve the fish safely, Japanese chefs need to train and obtain a permit, a process that can take years.

All this hullabaloo over a few measly pieces of fish liver? One could reasonably conclude that the best way to fix this problem is to just stop trying to eat things that want to kill you in the first place. But if “Danger” is your middle name, you might want to start by rethinking your decision to buy toxic fish at a supermarket.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns