Chef faces jail for serving toxic puffer fish

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A Japanese chef in Tokyo is facing possible jail time after intentionally serving highly poisonous pufferfish (fugu) liver to a customer.

Takeshi Yasuge, the head chef at Fukuji, a two-star Michelin restaurant in the upscale Ginza area that specialises in fugu, turned in his licence to serve the fish to public health officials after the incident.  

The 62-year old chef served about 10 to 20 grams of pufferfish liver on November 10 to a couple after the man requested it. The 35-year old woman accompanying him hesitated at first, but later ate some of it.

Mr. Yasuge also ate some of the liver. The woman began complaining of headaches and numbness in her lips on her way home from the restaurant. After being rushed to hospital, she was diagnosed with poisoning from ingesting the pufferfish.

Pufferfishes are notorious for their possession of tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin that can kill with an oral dosage as low as 25 milligrams. Tetrodotoxin is present in the organs of the pufferfish, especially in the liver, ovaries and skin.  

Pufferfishes are regularly consumed in Japanese cuisine, where only highly trained chefs holding special licences are permitted to prepare and serve it. Unfortunately, the liver, one of the most toxic parts of the fish, is considered the most delicious part of the fish. Together with its deadly allure, this has prompted gourmands to demand it, despite the life-threatening danger and the fact that it has been illegal since 1984 for fugu chefs to serve the liver in Japan.

Mr. Yasuge expressed remorse at what he has done: "I can’t say anything else except that I am deeply sorry. I am just so sorry. My heart is in chaos."

When asked why he had served the liver, he said: "I don’t really know why I did it, but I guess my will was swayed."  

The restaurant, which had just been awarded two stars in the Michelin guide to restaurants in the Tokyo area released recently, had its business suspended for a week while city officials and the police investigated the case.

Mr. Yasuge is likely to face fines and a possible jail term for his violation of food safety laws. According to Kazunori Suzuki, a public health official in Tokyo: "He (Mr. Yasuge) is a licensed fugu chef so he knows how dangerous it is to serve liver. There are rules for this and he did not follow it."

A Michelin spokesman said it does not intend to alter the restaurant’s rating. "The decision was based on dishes the agent ordered off the menu."

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