Michele Aquino writes:
Yellowfin tuna steaks were recently recalled due to potentially high levels of histamine in the fish. This was a relatively small recall, affecting products that were distributed in Louisiana and Mississippi markets. In 2010, Whole Foods Market issued a similar recall with their Whole Catch brand frozen tuna steaks.
Recall summaries identified the problem and explained the potential for an allergic histamine response in some individuals, which could vary in severity and include symptoms such as: burning and tingling in the mouth, facial swelling, itching, skin reactions, and possible GI discomfort (diarrhea). Statements explained this condition is known as histamine fish poisoning or scombroid toxicity, which refers to the family of fish that were originally implicated as the source of such illness. But, what I have read in the blogs today has no reference to why there might be elevated histamine in the fish.
Is this another challenge for tuna marketers? I’ve noticed an increase in tuna commercials, which I imagine are a response to years of having tuna fish evoke some sort of mercury risk…No thanks to comedian Larry David thinking twice before ordering his tuna salad sandwiches.
The source of the histamine is not to be presumed a flaw in nature’s fish, nor is the wild tuna community embracing a trendy high-histamine diet under the sea. Such a food safety risk is often a result of inadequate temperature control in processing or distribution. Bacteria present on the fish contain the enzyme histidine decarboxylase, which converts histidine in the fish tissue to histamine. By entering the temperature danger zone for too long, the bacteria on the fish multiply and this enzymatic conversion increases. The result: risky fish with a toxin that can’t be killed or deactivated by cooking temperatures.
Read more about marine toxins at the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/marine_toxins/
Michele Aquino recently returned to the U.S. after serving in the Peace Corps in rural Nicaragua. He has a degree in Nutrition and Food Science and is now pursuing studies in Public Policy.