What Causes Scombroid Fish Poisoning?

Reviewed on 8/9/2021

Scombroid fish poisoning (histamine fish poisoning) is a type of allergic reaction that happens from eating fish contaminated with high levels of histamine. This can happen when certain kinds of fish are not properly refrigerated, which increases the bacteria in the fish and produces high amounts of histamine. These histamines are heat-resistant, so you can still get sick from properly canned or cooked fish.
Scombroid fish poisoning (histamine fish poisoning) is a type of allergic reaction that happens from eating fish contaminated with high levels of histamine. This can happen when certain kinds of fish are not properly refrigerated, which increases the bacteria in the fish and produces high amounts of histamine. These histamines are heat-resistant, so you can still get sick from properly canned or cooked fish.

Scombroid fish poisoning, also called histamine fish poisoning, is an allergic-type reaction caused by eating fish contaminated with high levels of histamine. 

High levels of histamine in fish occur when certain kinds of fish are not properly refrigerated, which causes an increase in bacteria in the fish, resulting in a breakdown of the flesh of the fish and the production of high amounts of histamine. 

Histamines are heat-resistant, which means even if fish is properly canned or cooked, illness may still occur. Freezing, cooking, smoking, curing, or canning does not destroy the toxins.

Some contaminated fish will look, smell, and taste normal, but histamine-contaminated fish often has a bad smell, a metallic, sharp, or peppery taste, and a “honey-combed” appearance.

Common sources of scombroid fish poisoning include: 

  • Fish in the Scombridae family (tuna, mackerel, skipjack, amberjack, and bonito)
  • Mahi mahi
  • Bluefish
  • Dolphin
  • Marlin
  • Escolar

What Are Symptoms of Scombroid Fish Poisoning?

Symptoms of scombroid fish poisoning begin within minutes to several hours after consuming contaminated fish and often resemble an allergic reaction

Symptoms of scombroid fish poisoning include:

How Is Scombroid Fish Poisoning Diagnosed?

Scombroid fish poisoning is usually diagnosed based on symptoms combined with consumption of fish right before symptoms appeared. 

In some cases, laboratory testing may be done on uneaten fish to confirm a diagnosis. Try to keep portions of the suspect fish. Carefully handle the fish, packaged and frozen, to prevent deterioration.  


 

What Is the Treatment for Scombroid Fish Poisoning?

Symptoms of scombroid fish poisoning are mild and resolve within a few hours. Sometimes, symptoms can last for several days. 

Most of the time, treatment is not needed for scombroid fish poisoning. 

In severe cases or in people who have underlying medical conditions, antihistamines or epinephrine may be indicated. 

How Do You Prevent Scombroid Fish Poisoning?

Scombroid fish poisoning may be prevented in some cases: 

  • Only purchase fish from reputable vendors
  • Fish should be refrigerated at 41oF (5oC) or colder from the time of capture to the time it is cooked and eaten
    • Toxic histamine levels can be produced within less than 6 to 12 hours without ice or refrigeration
  • Do not consume fish with a bad odor or “honey-combed” appearance 
    • Histamines are heat-resistant, so cooking contaminated fish does not make it safe to eat

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Reviewed on 8/9/2021
References
https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/scombroid/index.html

https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/ScombroidFish%20Poisoning.aspx

https://www.fda.gov/food/seafood-guidance-documents-regulatory-information/scombrotoxin-poisoning-and-decomposition