Is puffer fish safe to eat? (what is the risk)

In this article, we will discuss whether puffer fish is safe to eat, what are the risks of eating puffer fish, what to do if you ingest puffer fish toxin and how can you safely prepare and cook puffer fish. 

Puffer fish is a very poisonous fish species. However, when properly prepared and cooked, puffer fish can be consumed without risks.

Is puffer fish safe to eat?

Yes, puffer fish is safe to eat, when correctly prepared and cooked. Pufferfish is considered one of the most poisonous fish species belonging to the family Tetraodontidae. Pufferfish is appreciated due to its improved flavour (1).

The ingestion of the toxin from pufferfish, Tetrodotoxin (TTX) can be deadly and has caused many food poisoning episodes worldwide. The toxin is not present in the body muscle but concentrated in the skin, gonads and viscera.

Therefore, by removing the skin the viscera and other parts of the fish and cooking the fish for a long time, its consumption is considered safe. The eggs can also be consumed if properly cooked, as they also contain the lethal toxin (1, 2).

What are the risks of eating puffer fish?

The risk of eating puffer fish is food poisoning by the TTX toxin or Tetrodotoxin. This toxin is hundreds of times more lethal than cyanide and has been the cause of several food poisoning occurrences in China, Japan, Mexico, Australia and Brazil (1).

The lethal dose for humans of the TTX toxin is 2 mg and the symptoms may develop rapidly, in 10 to 45 minutes after the ingestion. 

What are the symptoms of puffer fish toxin poisoning?

The symptoms of poisoning by the toxin of pufferfish are described in the table below (1, 2). The symptoms develop in different degrees of severity, depending on the amount of toxin ingested:

Poisoning severity level Time after ingestion  Symptoms
level 1 30 minutes gastrointestinal symptoms: nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, odd sensation over the mouth
level 2 30 minutes to hours motor weakness, discoordination of movements, difficulty of speaking, facial numbness, tongue immobilisation
level 3 some hours difficulty of breathing, loss of respiration ability, irregular heart rate
level 4 6 hours loss of consciousness, coma and death

What to do if you ingest puffer fish toxin?

If you ingest puffer fish toxin and notice the first symptoms, you should look for medical assistance immediately. When patients do not seek immediate medical assistance, the symptoms may develop quickly and be lethal (3).

How to prepare and cook puffer fish safely?

To prepare pufferfish safely, you should remove the skin, the liver, gallbladder and intestines from the fish and other viscera parts. Ovaries should also be removed as well as the eggs, although eggs may be consumed if properly cooked (1, 2).

The viscera and the skin can be removed with a sharp knife or scissors and the fish should be then boiled with excess water. The same can be done with the eggs, however, because the eggs contain toxins, they should be cooked 3 times.

Drying pufferfish

To dry pufferfish, consumers cut and wash the fish, salt the fish muscle and let it out overnight. Following, they wash to remove excess salt and dry the fish in the sun for about 3 days. The salt acts as a preservative in the fish.

Frying pufferfish

To fry pufferfish, consumers separate the fish muscle, which is blended with tapioca flour and spices, rolled in a desired format and boiled in water till it rises on the surface of the boiling water. The fish flour ball is then fried in deep oil.


In this article, we discussed what are the risks of eating pufferfish, what are the symptoms of poisoning by pufferfish toxin and how can you prepare and cook pufferfish safely. 

By following the recommended preparation and cooking practices, it is possible to consume pufferfish safely. Fish is a healthy food, but it is important to identify the risks of eating fish.

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Hajeb P, Mei HC, Noordin WN, Mahyudin NA. Make the deadly yellow puffer fish a safe food to eat. Journal Food, Agriculture and Environment. 2012 Jul 1;10(3-4):72-7.


Friedman MA, Fleming LE, Fernandez M, Bienfang P, Schrank K, Dickey R, Bottein MY, Backer L, Ayyar R, Weisman R, Watkins S. Ciguatera fish poisoning: treatment, prevention and management. Marine drugs. 2008 Aug 21;6(3):456-79.