European histamine outbreaks attributed to temperature abuse

Histamine poisoning from Spanish-supplied tuna has been a big deal for European markets this year, with hundreds sickened since May.

Now experts are saying that the problem likely stemmed from temperature abuse. Food Quality News reports that the highest level of histamine contamination found so far in the investigation was 5,020 parts per million (ppm). How much is too much? For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set a “defect action level” for histamine of just 50 ppm in tuna.

Hundreds of people, including more than 100 in Spain alone, have reported cases of histamine poisoning. Products were recalled, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) launched an extensive investigation to trace back the origin of the histamine outbreaks.

EFSA was unable to find a specific point in the food supply chain that could have caused every outbreak reported, but grouped incidents into four events.

Although the European Commission requires freezing temperatures for fishery products to be below
–18°C (0°F), temperatures around –10°C were recorded on some vessels. At the processing level, six non-compliant results were reported between 565 ppm and 866 ppm. At the retail/wholesale level, 28 non-compliant results were found.

Spain’s main law enforcement agency, La Guardia Civil, is investigating seven people in connection with the outbreaks, and one major fish distribution company has been connected to 105 Spanish cases of histamine poisoning.

Apart from Spain, countries that have seen unusual outbreak clusters are Italy, France, Croatia and Denmark.

Histamine is produced as fish decays, which happens faster if frozen fish are not held at cold enough temperatures. Histamine poisoning, also known as scombroid poisoning, makes up about 40% of all seafood-related foodborne illness cases. Most cases are manageable with symptoms such as nausea, rashes and vomiting, but in the worse cases, paralysis and death can happen.

Neogen offers testing solutions for detecting histamine in multiple fish. For more information, check out Neogen’s website or Neogen Europe’s website.

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