‘Hundreds’ sickened by histamine poisoning from fish

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: ©iStock. Tuna from Spain has been linked to the outbreaks
Picture: ©iStock. Tuna from Spain has been linked to the outbreaks
Potentially hundreds of people across Europe have been sickened in outbreaks caused by histamine levels in fish.

Italy, France, Croatia, Spain, Poland and Denmark reported outbreaks in the last few months.

Italy noted food poisoning caused by histamine (452 mg/kg - ppm) in vacuum marinated yellow fin tuna from Spain earlier this week via a RASFF notification.

Poland and Croatia on histamine

The Polish National Institute of Public Health and National Institute of Hygiene (NIPH-NIH) told us it had not seen an increased histamine level during the last few years.

RASFF notifications

Croatia: foodborne outbreak caused by histamine (444 mg/kg-ppm) in thawed yellowfin tuna fillets from Spain

Poland: foodborne outbreak caused by histamine (285; 283; 158 mg/kg-ppm) in chilled yellowfin tuna loins from Spain

Italy: foodborne outbreak caused by histamine (up to 4058 ppm) in thawed yellowfin tuna slices from Italy and outbreak caused by histamine (up to 2740 ppm) in thawed vacuum-packed yellowfin tuna slices from Italy, with raw material from Ecuador, via Spain and outbreak caused by histamine (4586 mg/kg-ppm) in thawed vacuum-packed tuna from Spain

France: ​foodborne outbreak (histamine poisoning: 565 mg/kg - ppm) caused by thawed vacuum-packed prepared bigeye tuna loins from Spain and outbreak caused by histamine poisoning (500; 1419; >2000 mg/kg-ppm) in chilled tuna from Spain, with raw material from Mexico

Denmark: histamine (276 mg/kg-ppm) in frozen tuna loins from Spain

Spain: foodborne outbreak caused by histamine (623 mg/kg-ppm) in defrosted tuna loins from Spain

A RASFF notification from Poland concerned presence of histamine in chilled tuna from Spain.

“Levels of histamine didn't meet microbiological criteria laid down in regulation (EC) no. 2073/2005. However these levels are not very high, please pay attention that for fish in brine the levels are 200 and 400 mg/kg.

“In [the] case of histamine in fish, each batch may be different. Finding histamine in one batch doesn't mean that in the next batch [the] level of histamine will be above [the] criteria.”

Hrvatska Agencija Za Hranu (HAH/Croatian Food Agency) told us positive histamine findings were in a sample of refined yellow-tuna filet from Spain.

Additional sampling by veterinary inspectors on two more lots from the same distributor or supplier from Spain were negative. Inspections on the market did not find other positive samples.

HAH said less than five histamine poisoning cases are reported annually.

Agencies from other countries mentioned above did not respond to our request for information.

Histamine forms when certain fish are not properly refrigerated before being cooked or processed. Cooking, freezing and canning will not destroy the toxin after it has formed.

Tuna, sardines, mackerel and anchovies are among the species where the substance can be found.

Symptoms include tingling or burning of the mouth or throat, rash, headache, diarrhoea and usually start within one hour after eating.

There were 42 outbreaks of histamine poisoning in Europe which involved 231 people in 2013.

More than 100 sick in Spain

Agencia Española de Consumo Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición (AECOSAN) said in May this year that more than 100 people had been sickened by histamine from eating freshly purchased tuna.

The agency said 105 illnesses had been reported.

Tuna was marketed by Garciden, based in Almeria​ , and distributed in Spain and France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Affected batches were withdrawn from the market.

The company did not respond to our request for comment at the time.

tuna fish 2

EFSA’s ongoing assessment

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was requested by DG SANTE to do a Rapid Outbreak Assessment following the increasing RASFF notifications on histamine intoxication and the number of human cases reported by some countries.

EFSA told us that according to the information in RASFF there are many clusters of human cases reported in different countries through several notifications.

The assessment will verify whether there is a correlation or not between RASFF notifications upstream in the supply chain.

“This could help in understanding if there are links between these clusters of human cases with regard to the source of the intoxication,”​ said EFSA.

“But, assessing such links requires a tracing back exercise which goes beyond EU borders, requiring more time for the investigation. Without clarity on this point, it is not possible to say how many countries and human cases are involved in this incident.”

When the assessment will be published is not clear but a deadline was recently extended until 30/9/2017.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

Related news

Show more

Follow us


View more