High Risk of Botulism from Ungutted Salted Fish Products

OTTAWA – Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are advising Canadians that the consumption of certain whole salted fish products like fesikh, a traditional dish in the Egyptian community, represents an increased risk of botulism because of the way they are prepared.

The fish used to make these specific salted fish dishes, including fesikh, are not gutted before the ripening and salting process. This provides an opportunity for Clostridium botulinum bacteria that may be in the gut of the fish to grow and produce the toxins that cause botulism. These toxins are not eliminated by any smoking or drying of the end product. Regardless of whether the end product is whole fish, fillets or parts, refrigeration, freezing, open air or vacuum packaging will not make the fish safe.

This warning comes as the result of a recent botulism outbreak in Ontario caused by the consumption of fesikh. While the specific products implicated have been recalled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the outbreak has highlighted the risks represented by these products. Internationally, the consumption of ungutted salted fish, including fesikh, has been linked to many cases of botulism.

Food contaminated with Clostridium botulinum toxin may not look or smell spoiled. Symptoms of botulism can include nausea and/or vomiting followed by one or more of: double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, dry mouth, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, weakness, respiratory failure and paralysis. In severe cases, death can occur. Symptoms generally begin 12 to 36 hours after eating a contaminated food, but they can occur as early as six hours or as late as 10 days.

Health Canada continues to collaborate with international, federal and provincial partners to develop and provide detailed guidance with respect to safe production of these types of product.

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