Elderly couple dies after eating poisonous pufferfish for lunch

An elderly couple from Malaysia has died after consuming pufferfish, also called 'fugu,' which can be poisonous if not handled correctly. Getty Images

An elderly couple has died after eating pufferfish meat in Malaysia — a seafood delicacy that can carry a deadly poison if not prepared correctly.

Ng Chuan Sing, 84, and his wife Lim Siew Guan, 83, from Johor, Malaysia, died after consuming at least two pufferfish purchased from an online vendor on March 25, CNN reported.

They fried the often-expensive delicacy and ate it for lunch the same day. Authorities claim the couple experienced “breathing difficulties and shivers” after eating the pufferfish, commonly referred to as ‘fugu.’ Ng and Lim were both taken to the hospital only hours after the meal.

That evening around 7 p.m. local time, Lim was pronounced dead. Ng spent eight days in a comatose state then woke up in poor condition.

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Ng did not know his wife had already died, the couple’s daughter Ng Ai Lee said at a press conference Sunday. According to the local newspaper The Star, Ng’s family told him Lim was resting at home, but suspected he knew she was dead.

On Thursday, Ng was transported out of the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) but died on Saturday morning.

The Star reported the couple’s cause of death as “food poisoning with neurological manifestation resulting in respiratory failure and irregular heart rate, possibly due to toxin ingestion.”

“Those responsible for their deaths should be held accountable under the law and I hope the authorities will speed up investigations,” Ng Ai Lee said at Sunday’s press conference.

Click to play video: 'Japanese chefs grapple with ‘hybrid’ pufferfish'
Japanese chefs grapple with ‘hybrid’ pufferfish

The conference, which took place just before the elderly couple’s funeral, served as a podium for Ng Ai Lee to call for stronger legislation surrounding pufferfish sale and consumption in Malaysia.

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“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,” she said.

Ng Ai Lee told The Star her family has yet to receive an apology from the fishmonger who sold the pufferfish to her parents.

In Malaysia, it is illegal to sell poisonous or harmful food like pufferfish. Offenders may be charged RM10,000 ($3,063) and face up to two years in prison.

Pufferfish carry a poison called tetrodotoxin in their liver, gonads and skin. Commonly served as sashimi or as part of a hotpot, pufferfish meat is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, especially Japan. The protein often requires specific, years-long training and certification to be able to serve.

A plate of pufferfish, or ‘fugu,’ sashimi. Fugu is usually served as a sashimi raw fish dish, or in a hotpot, stewed with other ingredients. Getty Images

Those affected by tetrodotoxin poisoning may experience weakness, nausea and vomiting, cranial nerve dysfunction and death. There is no known cure for tetrodotoxin poisoning, though respiratory support or mechanical ventilation has been known to reduce the risk of death.

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In Malaysia, there were 58 poisoning incidents involving pufferfish consumption reported between 1985 and 2023, as per CNN, of which 18 cases were fatal.

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