Lim Siew Guan and her husband Ng Chaun Sing, both of whom were in their early 80s, unknowingly purchased two poisonous pufferfish from an online vendor on Facebook, according to Johor authorities.
Hours after purchasing the fish, the couple fried it and ate it for lunch. Shortly afterward, they began experiencing numbness in their hands and legs. On route to the hospital, Lim, 83, began experiencing shortness of breath. By the time they arrived at the emergency room, she had lost consciousness. She died on the same day at approximately 7 p.m.
Her husband also experienced shortness of breath soon afterward. Despite prompt medical treatment, he fell into a coma for eight days; his condition also worsened. He eventually died on Saturday, April 8th, according to Ng Ai Lee, the couple’s daughter, who appeared for a press conference at her parent’s home prior to their funeral.
According to her, her father had purchased the pufferfish from his regular fishmonger, who had reassured him on WhatsApp that the fish was safe to consume as she’s sold it for years without any incidents.
Officials later determined that the poisonous pufferfish came from the coastal town of Mersing and was processed in Batu Pahat.
Their daughter is now urging the government to take action against those who are responsible for selling the poisonous fish; she also wants to see the existing laws enforced.
According to Tan Sri Hisham Abdullah, the director-general of health in Malaysia, Section 13 of the Food Act 1983 prohibits the sale of any food that contains harmful or poisonous substances, including pufferfish. Under the Fisheries Authority Act, fish that contain toxins are also not allowed to be sold. Despite that, there are no specific laws regarding pufferfish.
Health Ministry Data showed that there have been 58 cases of poisoning due to pufferfish since 1985, 18 cases of which resulted in deaths.
In a survey carried out in 2019, more than 85 percent of respondents, which included cooks, fishermen, fishmongers, and the public, were aware of the dangers of pufferfish. Despite that, many Malaysian residents are still unaware of their potential dangers. What’s worse, is that the fish is openly sold across the country in wet markets. In fact, it often attracts consumers as it’s regarded as “exotic.”, according to marine biologist Aileen Tan.
A Deadly Delicacy
Also known as “fugu”, pufferfish is a highly prized delicacy despite the fact that it contains a deadly poison called tetrodotoxin, which is present in the fish’s skin, bones, blood, and organs. Ingestion can cause dizziness and tingling around the mouth within minutes, which may be followed by respiratory paralysis, convulsions, and even death.
In Japan, the fish is most commonly served in high-end restaurants as a hot pot or sashimi ingredient. In recent years, however, its popularity has also caught in countries such as Singapore and South Korea.
Under Japanese law, chefs that prepare fugu must undergo extensive training, which can take up to three years, before they are licensed; only then can they handle and prepare the pufferfish. According to the Japanese health ministry, incorrectly prepared pufferfish is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the country.
Despite the known risks, its popularity has continued to grow among thrill seekers and gourmets.