how risky is fugu?

Every now and then you hear a story about the “dreaded pufferfish of Japan.”  Often these stories tell us that eating fugu is dangerous.   I have read a lot of stuff in the papers telling me that fugu (blowfish or pufferfish) is very risky.  People even tell me that “it is only eaten for the thrill”.


There are plenty of restaurants in Japan that sell fugu as their main dish.  There are also lots of places that sell it just as one of many things they sell.  Overall, it is estimated that there are over 80 million serves of the stuff every year in Japan – which sounds like a lot until you remember that there are nearly 130 million people in Japan.

Every year a handful of people get sick and sometimes they die.  Importantly, it has been years since anyone died from eating fugu prepared by someone licensed to serve it in a restaurant (there are licences for nearly everything in Japanese kitchens!).  So, nearly all of the people who get sick do so from eating fugu at home, prepared by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.

So, if there are 80 million serves per year and it is years since anyone died from eating fugu prepared by a licensed chef…  what does that mean for the “risk”?  Put in perspective, it is said that commercial air trips have about a one in 80 million chance of resulting in death. 

Roughly one in every 9,500 Australians dies on the roads each year, more in the US.

From a numeric point of view, there is not a lot to support the notion that eating fugu is risky.  I am not sure how many people die from choking on steak but it could even be a more prevalent problem.

There are plenty of examples of indefensibly bad risk management in regulating foods.  I will post more on them later.

Maybe fugu is a bit like a rollercoaster?  Maybe it feels risky without actually being all that risky?

are you too scared to fly on a commercial flight?

are you too scared to fly on a commercial flight?

This is a pic of some fugu tempura.  It is not the most usual way of eating it – I find the subtle taste of fugu to be lost in the “fried” taste of the batter.


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