Scombroid poisoning, also known simply as scombroid, is a food-borne illness that typically results from eating spoiled fish.
Symptoms may include flushed skin, headache, itchiness, blurred vision, abdominal cramps, and diarrhoea. Onset of symptoms is typically 10 to 60 minutes after eating and can last for up to two days
Scombroid poisoning is caused by the bacterial breakdown of the meat of certain fish to create spoilage chemicals, like histamines, from certain components of the protein. These chemicals are very similar to those produced naturally by the body when it is exposed to an allergen, hence the very similar symptoms.
How Do You Get Scombroid Poisoning?
Allergic reactions typically affect one person who has a history of allergy to the implicated food item. However, with scombroid poisoning, more than one person, often with no history of allergies, may be affected.
This means that, if more than a handful of people consumed the same fish, we would expect more than one person to get sick.
Cooking kills the bacteria, but toxins remain in the tissue of the fish and can be absorbed after the fish has been consumed.
It is the spoilage of the fish meat that causes the disease, not living bacteria. Thus the bacteria have to be present through contamination and allowed to grow via breaks in the cold chain. Once they have been allowed to produce the toxin cooking is essentially useless.
Scombroid food poisoning is frequently encountered if dead fish remain in set nets during warm sea temperatures and/or the fish is improperly refrigerated or when refrigeration is delayed.
How To Prevent Contamination
There is usually no way to tell if the Scombroid histamine is present. The histamines are not destroyed by heat, so even thoroughly cooked fish is a risk.
Therefore keeping good temperature control is critical
- Fish should be iced
- Frozen immediately after it is caught.
- Kept in the fridge until ready for preparation.
- The cold chain should be maintained throughout.
For additional tips on how to prevent food poisoning, check out our article on food poisoning complaints.
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