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FDA Adds Lionfish to List of Fish That May Carry Ciguatoxins

Issues ciguatera guidelines for industry

The federal government Thursday warned fish processors to take safety precautions with species that carry a risk of ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP).

In a draft guidance for industry published in the Federal Register, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration listed the types of fish that have been found to harbor ciguatoxins, including two species of lionfish that had not previously been named as a potential CFP threat.

Ciguatoxins are produced by an algae that grows in coral reefs and are found in the highest concentrations in the muscle tissue, organs, and fat of tropical or subtropical predatory reef fish, according to the Florida Department of Health.

CFP is usually characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and neurological symptoms including tingling of the lips and extremities and a reversal of one’s sensation of hot and cold. These neurological symptoms can last for years after exposure to the toxin.

Ciguatoxins cause more illnesses worldwide than any other marine toxin in the world, and are most common in large predatory fish in the Caribbean Sea, the South Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

In its draft guidance, FDA refers fish processors to its Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance, also known as The Guide, for a list of the fish that may carry dangerous levels of ciguatoxins. These include certain species of barracuda, grouper, scamp, amberjack, snapper, hind, hogfish, jobfish, pompano, jacks and trevally, wrasse, mackerel, tang, moray eels and parrotfish, according to The Guide.

With its new guidance, FDA has added two species of lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) to those that may pose a CFP threat.

“We have also found CFP toxins in lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) collected in waters surrounding the U.S. Virgin Islands,” says the agency in the document. “However, as of January 2013, there have been no reports of CFP illnesses associated with the consumption of lionfish.”

FDA urges primary seafood processors to be aware of potential ciguatoxin risks associated with fish they are purchasing from harvesters.

The agency’s HACCP guidelines for fish call for species from at-risk areas to be discarded.

Cooking fish does not kill ciguatoxins, which are heat stable and odor free, and there is no known cure for CFP. Therefore the best way to avoid CFP is to be aware of any ciguatoxin risk in the areas from which a fish is harvested.

“[CFP] occurrence is sporadic in reef areas, so you have to rely on local knowledge of areas that have a history of problems.” said Ken Gall, a seafood technology specialist for the New York Sea Grant at Cornell University Extension in an emailed statement to Food Safety News last month.

FDA is accepting comments on its draft guidance on fish associated with ciguatoxins through May 27. 

© Food Safety News
  • http://twitter.com/EugeneChu1 Eugene T Chu

    People are proposing to eat lionfish to decrease the surplus population. Any diners or suppliers should read this article before grilling a lionfish for dinner.

    • Gregory Gavan

      Before grilling a lionfish….also before grilling any other fish that is listed in the article such as grouper, amber jack, snapper, etc…. those fish are found in restaurants more often than lionfish