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Food Safety Focus (32nd Issue, March 2009) – Food Incident Highlight

Oilfish and Diarrhoea

In early February 2009, a group of students suffered from diarrhea after consuming a meal of so-called "perch fillets" in a Stanley restaurant. Investigation revealed that the fish involved was oilfish.

Oilfish often refer to two species of fish (scientific names: Ruvettus pretiosus and Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) under the family Gempylidae. They are rich in fat and contain naturally present wax esters. The wax esters, which are indigestible by humans, can accumulate in the rectum after consumption of oilfish. It may cause oily diarrhoea and discomfort ranging from stomach cramps to rapid loose bowel movements. Recovery is usually within 24 to 48 hours in affected individuals.

In response to the 2007 oilfish incidents, the Centre for Food Safety issued guidelines on the identification and labelling of oilfish and cod. The food trade should ensure that fish they sell are labelled correctly. It is recommended that the two species of fish be labelled as "oilfish" so that customers can distinguish them from other species.