Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Risky Eating: Uneviscerated Fish

March 4, 2009

Last week, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets issued three separate food safety alerts warning consumers to avoid eating certain uneviscerated fish. Two of those alerts have been echoed by FDA.

The following fish products were the subject of these alerts.

  • S&M (USA) Enterprise Corp. Uneviscerated White Herring (16 oz clear plastic bags): Product of China; Distributed in New York State; No UPC or lot codes; FDA Alert Issued 
  • San Link Inc. Uneviscerated Vacuum Packaged Dried Chechon (Random weight plastic bags, 0.66 lb average): Product of Russia; Distributed in New York State; Date code 21.12.2008; FDA Alert Issued
  • Gusto Food Inc. Steamed Mackerel (1/2 lb plastic bags): Product of Thailand; Distributed in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, and Michigan; No UPC or lot codes

New York State prohibits the sale of processed, uneviscerated fish due to the risk of botulism. Spores of Clostridium botulinum have been known to concentrate in the viscera (intestines) of fish, and may germinate and grow – and produce a deadly neurotoxin – if conditions are favorable. Some Clostridium botulinum strains are able to produce toxin even at refrigeration temperatures.

The risk of botulism poisoning from uneviscerated fish has been understood for more than 20 years. Small outbreaks were reported in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in 1987 (New York), 1990 (Hawaii) and 1992 (New Jersey).

Symptoms of Clostridium botulinum food poisoning typically make their appearance from 12-36 hours after the victim has consumed food that contains botulinum toxin. Victims may suffer from nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, headache, double vision, or dry throat and nose. In severe cases, the symptoms may progress to paralysis and respiratory failure. With prompt and proper treatment, the fatality rate is approximately 5 to 10%. Symptoms may last from 2 hours to 2 weeks, depending on the amount of toxin ingested, the health status of the victim and the treatment provided. 

Consumers who purchased one of the recalled uneviscerated fish products should either discard it carefully – out of reach of children and pets – or return it to the store for a refund.

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