Seven Japanese gourmets in the northern city of Tsuruoka required hospital treatment after ill-advisedly ordering grilled blowfish testicles at a restaurant not licensed to serve potentially-fatal fugu, as the piscine delicacy is known locally.
Police official Yoshihito Iwase explained to AP that the men tucked into said 'nads and sashimi (sliced raw seafood) and quickly developed "limb paralysis and breathing trouble and started to lose consciousness". Cue medical intervention, and three of the customers were today still hospitalised - one 68-year-old in a critical condition with respiratory failure and two others aged 55 and 69 described as "serious".
The unnamed restaurant's owner, who was also the chef, had "no license to serve blowfish and was being questioned on suspicion of professional negligence", Iwase said.
He added: "It's scary. If you go to a decent-looking restaurant that serves fugu, you would assume a cook has a proper fugu license."
Blowfish, aka pufferfish, of the order Tetraodontiformes, commonly contain high levels of the toxin tetrodotoxin* in their gonads, intestines, liver, and skin, although the flesh is often relatively safe. The poison, known to its chums as anhydrotetrodotoxin 4-epitetrodotoxin, initially provokes "a slight numbness of the lips and tongue" followed by increasing paralysis, possible convulsions and cardiac arrhythmia and death usually within 4-6 hours, as the US Food and Drug Administration delightfully explains.
Accordingly, extreme care must be taken in preparing the fish for human consumption, ensuring that the unpalatable organs are removed. However, despite Japan's blowfish licensing regime, three people died and 44 others fell ill from blowfish poisoning in 2007, according to the Health Ministry. ®
*The FDA elaborates that tetrodotoxin is also found in "the California newt, parrotfish, frogs of the genus Atelopus, the blue-ringed octopus, starfish, angelfish, and xanthid crabs". The agency notes "at least one report of a fatal episode when an individual swallowed a California newt", but does not elaborate on how this unfortunate incident occurred.