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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 10:57 a.m., Thursday, May 24, 2007

Toxin in frozen Chinese fish prompts recall in Hawai'i

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A frozen product labeled monkfish distributed in Hawai'i and two other states is being recalled because two people became ill after eating it, the importer said Thursday.

Hong Chang Corp. of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., said it is recalling the product labeled as monkfish because it may contain tetrodotoxin, a potent toxin.

While the frozen fish, imported from China, was labeled monkfish, the company said it is concerned that it may be pufferfish. The suspect toxin usually is associated with certain types of pufferfish.

Eating foods containing tetrodotoxin can result in life-threatening illness or death, and the toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing.


The company said two people near Chicago became ill after eating soup containing the fish. Analysis by the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the presence of the toxin.

Beginning in September, 282 22-pound boxes of the fish were distributed to wholesalers in Illinois, California and Hawai'i, according to the company. The fish was sold in retail stores, restaurants and cash-and-carry stores in these regions.

The fish are individually packaged in clear plastic sleeves and placed in a plastic liner, which is inside a cardboard box. There are no lot numbers on the box. Labels on one panel read "MONK FISH GUTTED AND HEAD-OFF PRODUCT OF CHINA."

A second box panel bears nutritional facts and the following, "Ingredients: Monk fish; Imported by: Hong Chang Corp., Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670; Product of China (P.R.C.)."


Tetradotoxin, also known as fugu poisoning, after the Japanese name of the fish, is also made by the California newt, parrotfish, Atelopus frogs, the blue-ringed octopus, starfish, angelfish and some crabs, according to the FDA. Fugu is a delicacy in Japan, where only specially licensed chefs are allowed to prepare the fish to ensure the organs containing the toxin are safely and completely removed.

"Importation of pufferfish into the U.S. is not generally permitted, although special exceptions may be granted," the FDA Web site says. "There is potential for misidentification and/or mislabeling, particularly of prepared, frozen fish products."

Those who have bought the fish are to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund, the FDA said. Any illness associated with the fish should be reported to local health authorities. The company can be contacted at (562) 309-0068 by consumers with questions. The person answering that number spoke limited English and said to call another number: (909) 837-8140.

In returning the fish to sellers for refunds, customers were warned to exercise care in handling the product because the tetrodotoxin may be present on the skin and flesh of the fish.

Bloomberg News Service contributed to this report.