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Top 14 Food Poisoning Causing Exotic Holiday Foods to Avoid

Head of International Travel Law Nick Harris

Author:
Dated: 29th April 2016

Part of the excitement of going abroad is experiencing a different way of life and getting a taste of the local culture at your holiday destination, and food plays a big role in this whether you're just enjoying a break in the sun or a fully-fledged foodie. Sampling the local exotic delicacies is a must for some people, but as with any food that you eat abroad; it's important to have a bit of knowledge on your side to stay safe, as many foreign dishes can be very hazardous to your health.

1. Fugu

Served in Japan

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If you're a fan of the earlier episodes of The Simpsons you may be familiar with Fugu, but you might be surprised to learn that this Japanese delicacy that nearly killed Homer is every bit as dangerous as the show made it out to be. Chefs in Japan are required to have a license to serve this dangerous blowfish, and to obtain that license they have to undergo two to three years of training to ensure that they serve it correctly.

Even the smallest error in preparing this dish can be fatal, and consuming an amount of the tetrodotoxin no larger than the tip of a pin can be 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide, with the intestines, ovaries and liver of the fugu being particularly lethal.

2. Ackee

Served in Jamaica

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Ackee is a type of fruit which is native to the tropical regions of West Africa but is commonly found throughout Jamaica and served in local dishes such as ackee and saltfish. While it's usually safe when served correctly, inedible parts of this fruit and even portions which have yet to ripen can be very dangerous.

The toxins hypoglycin A and B that can be found in the seeds and other parts of the ackee fruit can cause the body to run out of glucose leading to hypoglycaemia as well as Jamaican Vomiting Sickness, which in addition to vomiting can put you in a comas and in some cases result in death. Although there are strict regulations in place for canned ackee, you may want to be careful at local restaurants where they might not be as stringent.

3. Blood Clams/Cockles

Served in Mexico and Asia

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While blood clams might look off putting, they're considered a delicacy around the world, particularly in countries like Mexico and China. Due to the environment that they live in, blood clams can cause a lot of harm if not prepared correctly.

Because blood clams or cockles live in parts of the ocean that aren't rich in oxygen, they naturally ingest a number of viruses and bacteria such as Hepatitis A and E, Typhoid, and Dysentery to survive. If they're cooked using the inadequate traditional quick boil method, these infectious diseases won't be eradicated and can be contracted.

4. Fesikh

Served in Egypt

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The Fesikh fish is a traditional dish in Egypt that is served throughout the Mediterranean and Red Sea regions. Fesikh requires an elaborate process of preparation involving sun drying and salt preservation that can take up to a year to complete.

If the process of preparation is not carried out correctly and you eat it, food poisoning might be the least of your concerns. Fesikh can contain the neurotoxin botulism which causes paralysis and in some cases; death.

5. Silver-Stripe Blaasop

Served in Greece, the Mediterranean and the Middle East

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In the Mediterranean the silver-strip blassop has long been a favourite, but it's native to the Indian Ocean, and while this fish is served at restaurants throughout the region, it needs to be carefully prepared to avoid causing significant harm to those who eat it.

The liver and reproductive organs of the silver-strip blassop produce a toxin that causes paralysis, problems with breathing and death, something which several unfortunate individuals found out in Egypt and Israel in 2007, where 10 deaths were attributed to the deadly fish.

6. Cassava/Tapioca

Served in Africa, South America and Asia

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Cassava can be found in African, South American and Asian countries and goes by a range of different names including tapioca, yucca, Brazilian arrowroot and manioc. Regardless of which name you know it by, it might shock you to know how dangerous it is.

Cassava needs to go through a rigorous soaking process followed by drying or cooking, and if it's served raw or improperly prepared it can produce hydrogen cyanide, which can be severely debilitating and in some cases cause permanent paralysis and death.

7. Monkey Brains

Served in Asia

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You might have thought that the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where chilled monkey brains are served was pure fiction, but in parts of Asia monkey brains are still served. Aside from the obvious moral ambiguity of eating the brains of a primate, your health could be at risk if you do get the opportunity to have your own Dr Jones moment.

Eating the brain or nerve tissue of any animal can cause a condition known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, or Prion disease, which is essentially a neurological degenerative disorder similar to BSE, which presently is incurable.

8. Giant Bullfrog

Served in Namibia, Africa

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While you might more commonly associate frogs as being a French delicacy, in Namibia, Africa they don't just consume the legs of this huge frog, they eat every part of the giant bullfrog from a few of the more toxic organs.

While they're generally safer to eat just after the mating season when their level of toxicity is at its lowest, they can still pose a threat. Consuming the toxin of the Giant Bullfrog can result in a type of kidney failure that can prove fatal if not treated.

9. Sannakji

Served in Korea

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A favourite dish in Korea, but if you're squeamish you might want to give this one a miss. Sannakji is made using a type of small octopus call Nakji which is cut into small pieces or served whole, and aside from light seasoning that's it.

Most meat poses a risk if it's served undercooked or raw due to the bacteria or parasites that could be present, but when Sannakji is served the tentacles are often still moving, as the dish is prepared alive. This can result in choking as the suction cups on the tentacles latch on to your throat.

10. Hákarl

Served in Iceland

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Made from Greenland shark and occasionally other breeds of sleeper shark; Hákarl is a national dish in Iceland that is prepared through a fermentation process that can take 5 months. This long curing process removes the natural toxins of the shark, and eating it is often regarded as a feat of strength.

Because the Greenland shark doesn't have any kidneys it produces large amounts of trimethylamine oxide. If it hasn't been cured properly or it's served fresh, it can give you a severe case of food poisoning that can result in death.

11. Casu Marzu

Served in Sardinia and Italy

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While you might be aware of the dangers of eating cheese that is past its prime, you probably wouldn't eat cheese that is so past its sell by date that it moves. Casu marzu is prepared with Sardinian sheep milk that uses live maggots to promote the fermentation process.

Startlingly not everyone considers it best practice to remove the maggots before consuming it, and although some will place the cheese in a paper bag to starve the maggots of oxygen before consuming it, others prefer to eat the live dish as it was intended. Consuming live maggots is never advisable, as they're capable of boring through your intestinal wall, something which is unsurprisingly very detrimental to your health.

12. Echizen Kurage

Served in Japan

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Also known as Nomura's Jellyfish, this dish became a delicacy after the Japanese found that it was decimating their tuna population. Echizen Kurage requires exceptionally careful preparation to ensure that the deadly toxins it contains are removed before consumption.

Echizen Kurage has to go through a special process of preparation which includes drying and salting before it's considered safe to eat, and while fatalities are rare they have occurred in the past, so be careful if you decide to eat this exotic jellyfish.

13. Durian Fruit

Served in Southeast Asia

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The durian fruit grows throughout Southeast Asia and is considered to be an enjoyable delicacy, if consumed correctly.

While the flesh of durian fruit is generally considered to be safe for consumption at certain ripeness, and the seeds are only safe if consumed after being thoroughly cooked, as if they are eaten fresh they produce cyclopropene fatty acids that are toxic to humans. An odd side effect of durian fruit is that if it's consumed with an alcohol beverage, your body will struggle to break down the alcohol, which can cause alcohol poisoning in extreme cases.

14. Pangium Edule

Served in Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

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The fruit of the Pangium Edule, otherwise known as keluak, keluwak and kepayang throughout Southeast Asia is considered a delicacy, but only if it has been fermented to remove the dangerous toxins present.

Both the fruit and the seeds within produce hydrogen cyanide which can result in paralysis and in some cases death, and with only a small amount of this deadly toxin needed to cause harm, it's best to avoid it unless you can be sure that it has been properly prepared.

What to Do if You Become Ill

While it might be unlikely that you'll consume any of these deadly exotic dishes at an all-inclusive resort, in the event that you do consume an undercooked chicken breast or contaminated burger and find yourself experiencing the symptoms of food poisoning on holiday, it's still important to receive a diagnosis and treatment from a medical professional. While your symptoms might pass, further health complications can develop from an untreated bacterial or parasitic infection that could affect your quality of life.

If you do find that your package holiday has been ruined by illness, you might be able to claim compensation from your tour operator. Our travel law specialists can provide you with a free consultation on your claim, and we can handle all cases on a 'no win no fee' basis, so don't hesitate to get in touch with us.

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