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FDA Warns of Potentially Lethal Imported Puffer Fish Mislabeled as Monkfish

May 25, 2007 -- The FDA today warned consumers not to buy or eat monkfish because it may actually be puffer fish containing a potentially lethal toxin called tetrodotoxin.

The FDA's warning comes after two people in the Chicago area became ill after eating homemade soup containing the mislabeled monkfish. One of those people was hospitalized due to severe illness, says the FDA.

The FDA analyzed the fish and confirmed the presence of potentially life-threatening levels of tetrodotoxin, which isn't found in real monkfish.

If you've already got monkfish in your freezer or refrigerator, throw it out, says the FDA. Tetrodotoxin isn't destroyed by cooking, freezing, or other common methods of food preparation.

The FDA says the mislabeled fish were imported from China by Hong Chang Corp. of Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Consumers concerned that they may have purchased this fish should contact their retailer and ask if the product was received from Hong Chang Corp.

The FDA allows puffer fish to be imported into the U.S. only under strict provisions that minimize the risk of the toxin being present in the fish. The recalled fish were not in compliance with those provisions.

The FDA says it's examining all imports from the Chinese supplier and will take additional action, if warranted.

Boxes of Imported Fish

According to the FDA, a total of 282 22-pound boxes labeled as monkfish were distributed to wholesalers in Illinois, California, and Hawaii beginning in September 2006. These fish were then sold to restaurants or sold in stores. In one instance, the retailer labeled the fish as "bok," the Korean name for puffer fish.

The white 22-pound boxes were labeled in black ink. One box panel is labeled as "FROZEN MONKFISH GUTTED AND HEAD-OFF" and "PRODUCT OF CHINA." A second panel bears nutritional facts and the following text: "Ingredients: Monk fish; Imported by: Hong Chang Corp, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670; Product of China (P.R.C.)."

A third panel has a check box indicating the size as either "0.5-1" or "1-2" and shows the net weight as 22 pounds. There are no manufacturing codes on the box. The fish in the box are individually wrapped in plastic bags with no labeling.

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