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Int J Food Microbiol. 2000 Jun 30;58(1-2):1-37.

Histamine fish poisoning revisited.

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National Office of Animal and Plant Health, Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry--Australia, Canberra, ACT.


Histamine (or scombroid) fish poisoning (HFP) is reviewed in a risk-assessment framework in an attempt to arrive at an informed characterisation of risk. Histamine is the main toxin involved in HFP, but the disease is not uncomplicated histamine poisoning. Although it is generally associated with high levels of histamine (> or =50 mg/100 g) in bacterially contaminated fish of particular species, the pathogenesis of HFP has not been clearly elucidated. Various hypotheses have been put forward to explain why histamine consumed in spoiled fish is more toxic than pure histamine taken orally, but none has proved totally satisfactory. Urocanic acid, like histamine, an imidazole compound derived from histidine in spoiling fish, may be the "missing factor" in HFP. cis-Urocanic acid has recently been recognised as a mast cell degranulator, and endogenous histamine from mast cell degranulation may augment the exogenous histamine consumed in spoiled fish. HFP is a mild disease, but is important in relation to food safety and international trade. Consumers are becoming more demanding, and litigation following food poisoning incidents is becoming more common. Producers, distributors and restaurants are increasingly held liable for the quality of the products they handle and sell. Many countries have set guidelines for maximum permitted levels of histamine in fish. However, histamine concentrations within a spoiled fish are extremely variable, as is the threshold toxic dose. Until the identity, levels and potency of possible potentiators and/or mast-cell-degranulating factors are elucidated, it is difficult to establish regulatory limits for histamine in foods on the basis of potential health hazard. Histidine decarboxylating bacteria produce histamine from free histidine in spoiling fish. Although some are present in the normal microbial flora of live fish, most seem to be derived from post-catching contamination on board fishing vessels, at the processing plant or in the distribution system, or in restaurants or homes. The key to keeping bacterial numbers and histamine levels low is the rapid cooling of fish after catching and the maintenance of adequate refrigeration during handling and storage. Despite the huge expansion in trade in recent years, great progress has been made in ensuring the quality and safety of fish products. This is largely the result of the introduction of international standards of food hygiene and the application of risk analysis and hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) principles.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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