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Foods -- Seafood

What is scombroid poisoning?

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Scombroid poisoning is a type of food poisoning caused by consumption of scombroid and scombroid-like marine fish species that have not been kept at low enough temperatures after they have been caught. Fish most commonly involved include tunas, mackerels, bluefish, dolphin (mahi-mahi), and amberjacks. If these fish are not quickly and properly iced after capture, bacteria on the surface will start converting the amino acid histidine to histamine. Large amounts of histamine can cause an allergic response, such as facial flushing, sweating, burning or peppery sensations around the mouth and throat, dizziness, nausea, and headache. The symptoms appear within a few minutes to two hours after the fish are eaten. These initial symptoms can be followed by a facial rash, hives, and short-term diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Symptoms usually last 4 to 6 hours and rarely exceed two days.

If the fish contain the toxin, it cannot be destroyed by freezing or cooking. Although scombroid poisoning can be a problem in the commercial seafood industry, it is also a significant problem with recreational fishermen who do not handle their catch properly.

SOURCE: Donn Ward, Ph.D., Joyce Taylor, and David Green, Ph.D., Department of Food Science, NC State University

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