An elderly couple have died after eating unknowingly buying and eating poisonous pufferfish in Malaysia, causing their daughter to push for stronger laws to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
Ng Chuan Sing and his wife Lim Siew Guan, both in their early 80s, unknowingly purchased at least two pufferfish from an online vendor on March 25, according to police authorities in the southern state of Johor.
Their daughter, Ng Ai Lee, said that her parents had bought fish from the same fishmonger ‘for many years so my father did not think twice about it,’ according to The Star, an English-language newspaper in Malaysia.
The same day Lim fried the fish for lunch and began to experience ‘breathing difficulties and shivers,’ authorities said, according to CNN.
An hour after eating the meal, her husband Ng also started showing similar symptoms, they added.
The couple was rushed to hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit, and Lim was pronounced dead at 7p.m. local time.
Ng fell into a coma for eight days but his condition worsened and he died on Saturday morning, April 8, said the couple’s daughter, Ng Ai Lee, who gave a press conference at the couple’s home on Sunday before their funeral.
Commonly referred to as ‘fugu’ – the Japanese term for pufferfish, pufferfish meat is enjoyed as a highly-priced delicacy despite containing deadly poison.
The fish’s organs, as well as skin, blood and bones, contain high concentrations of a deadly poison known as tetrodotoxin.
Ng demanded accountability for her parents’ death and for stronger laws in Malaysia, where at least 30 species of pufferfish are commonly found in surrounding waters.
‘Those responsible for their deaths should be held accountable under the law and I hope the authorities will speed up investigations,’ Ng said.
‘I also hope the Malaysian government will beef up enforcement and help to raise public awareness on pufferfish poisoning to prevent such incidents from happening again.’
Malaysian law prohibits the sale of poisonous and harmful food like pufferfish meat and the offense carries a fine of RM10,000 ($2,300) or a prison term of up to two years.
Despite the dangers, pufferfish is still sold at many Malaysian wet markets, experts said.
‘It’s considered exotic and tends to attract consumers,’ said Aileen Tan, a marine biologist and director at the Universiti Sains Malaysia Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies.
‘Once pufferfish have been cleaned and sold as slices, it is nearly impossible for the public to know the type of fish that they purchased,’ Tan warned.
‘As for sellers, it is debatable on their (part) if they are aware (of the risks).
‘There needs to be more awareness about the risks of consuming puffer fish – maybe authorities need to look at special certifications for vendors and suppliers,’ she said.