Sham El Nessim and The Botulism Scare


The Egyptian Ministry of Health has issued a warning about eating Fesikh in the coming Sham El Nessim stating all the risks associated with its consumption. And as soon as the warning was issued, social media and online news websites spread the news and a botulism scare.

We, at Scoop Empire, believe in your freedom of choice to celebrate the festival, eating Fesikh or not it’s your choice. However it is your right to know.

Fesikh is a traditional Egyptian seafood dish made by salting and fermenting (by canning and storing) in the sun, Gray Mullet (Bori) fish which is a seawater fish found in the Mediterranean and the Red sea. It is a process dated back thousands of years since the time of the Ancient Egyptians.

But, as with most canned foods, Anaerobic Bacteria (that doesn’t need air to breathe) can grow if the canned food is not properly handled during the process of canning. A certain bacterium called Closteridium Botulinum produces a toxin called Botulinum. It’s a neurotoxin (affects the nervous system) leading to paralysis. Luckily enough it is a heat labile toxin meaning it could be destroyed by heat.

Thus,  commercially canned goods are required to undergo a “botulinum cook” in a pressure cooker at 121°C for 3 minutes, and so rarely cause botulism. With Fesikh in Egypt, it is not always the case. Sometimes it is prepared and canned in unauthorized farms which dictates the need for more efficient market supervision.

So what does Botulism do? When ingested, the toxin goes straight to your nerves and starts blocking neurotransmission leading to paralysis. A process that takes from 8-36 hours. Usually starting by abdominal discomfort, cramps, difficulty in swallowing, blurring of vision, weakness in the shoulder and upper arm muscles along with difficulty in breathing. It might lead to death in advanced cases with paralysis of the respiratory muscle.

How do we prevent it? Buy your Fesikh from a local trusted vendor with the packs tightly sealed. Check the fish for bloating, extra offensive rotten smell, the flesh should be light pink, not dark.  For extra precautions, peel the flesh of the fish, throw them in a pan for about 10 minutes with olive oil, serve with a salad or in a sandwich and you’re good to go.  During the rest of the day watch out for any abdominal discomfort or cramps or the above mentioned symptoms.

The disease is manageable in the early stages of its symptoms. Whenever symptoms appear, head to the nearest toxins centre and bring with you the leftover fish for further analysis, you might just have overeaten.

Vacsera is the general organization for production of Vaccines and Sera in Egypt. It produces the antitoxin needed to reverse the action of the toxin.  Check out their website:  Vacsera for more info, contact numbers and outlets. Also there is the National Toxicology Centre in Al Kasr Ainy University Hospital. And the Toxicology Centre in Al Demerdash University Hospital.

Happy Sham El Nessim and Stay Safe !!