Do you eat fish? Learn about Ciguatera food poisoning

You don’t often hear about ciguatera food poisoning, unless you are part of the fishing industry. This naturally occurring toxin found in fish can cause serious foodborne illness. Cooking does not deactivate the toxin, so even properly cooked seafood can make you sick. In the past few years, there have been several outbreaks and recallsrelated to this toxin.


This type of food poisoning is responsible for the highest reported incidence of foodborne illness outbreaks linked to finfish around the world, according to a study published in Toxicon by Robert Dickey and Steven M. Plakaas. The algae that produces the toxin is usually located in the tropics, but these harmful algal blooms have been occurring in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and Miami in recent years. As coral reefs deteriorate because of climate change and ocean acidification, the risk of this illness will increase.

The toxin is produced by micro algae, or dinoflagellates, called Gambierdiscus toxicus. Small fish eat the algae, and they are then in turn eaten by larger reef-dwelling fish. The toxins climb up the food chain until the contaminated fish are caught and served to people. The fish most likely to have the ciguatera toxin include amberjack, barracuda, grouper, coral trout, hogfish, snapper, moray eel, wrasse, tang, parrotfish, and Spanish mackerel.

Gambierdiscus under a microscope
Gambierdiscus under a microscope

Symptoms of ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) are typical of food poisoning, and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and body aches. If left untreated, further symptoms can include numbness, joint pain, tingling in the hands, feet, or mouth, dizziness, itchiness, shortness of breath, rashes, vertigo, irregular heartbeat, and the reversal of hot and cold sensations. There is no cure for this toxin, although treatments are available. Some people are affected with health problems for years after ciguatera poisoning, if you have found that you are affected by such problems due to food poisoning you might want to look into someone like these Smyrna, GA personal injury attorneys who might be able to help you with your case.

Restaurants have a responsibility to warn their patrons that this type of food poisoning is associated with certain fish on their menus. Distributors of fish are also responsible, since they must have an HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan that analyzes hazards with the food they sell and looks into ways in which food is kept safe from biological, chemical, and physical hazards in the production processes, that could allow any form of risk. Any HACCP plan must exclude fish harvested from an area where there is a CFP problem. Larger, predatory fish, usually over 6 pounds, are more likely to harbor the toxin. And liver, intestines, heads, and roe of smaller reef fish may also carry the toxin. If you have been to a restaurant that has given you severe food poisoning then you may be able to get compensation. There are loads of law firms that deal with things like food poisoning. If this is something that you have experienced then you can easily get a law firm involved to help you with your case. However, one thing that you might struggle with is finding the right law firm for you. This might be due to where you live. However, if you go on the ‘our office‘ page on a law firm’s site then you can see where the law firm is based and if they are close enough to help you with your case. This type of food poisoning can affect someone’s life massively and they’re surprisingly common.

A report this last summer published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene showed that these poisonings are more common than previously thought: 5.6 cases per 100,000 residents, more than the previously recorded 0.2 cases per 100,000 residents. Areas around Miami and the Florida Keys are especially vulnerable. Most fish causing these poisonings in Florida are caught in the Keys and in the Bahamas.

If you fish for these specific species, buy them from a grocery store, or order them in a restaurant, and then experience the symptoms described above within six hours after eating the fish, it’s important to see a doctor. The report stated that Hispanics have the highest incidence rate of this infection, since they are more likely than other populations to eat barracuda, the fish considered most risky for ciguatera toxin.

To protect yourself, when you fish, shop, or eat in a restaurant, choose smaller fish, since they will have a lesser concentration of the toxin. Don’t eat the viscera of any reef fish. There are no tests for the toxin and it doesn’t change the fish’s taste, texture, flavor, or appearance. And always buy seafood from a reputable fishmonger, and be aware of CFP warnings if you fish to eat.

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