Saturday, February 5, 2011


Mercury is not the only toxic substance that could be in your delicious tuna steak. Mind you, on that issue, yellow-fin tuna is fairly high in mercury, but likely to have lower levels than some other kinds such as Bigeye Tuna, and far less than fish such as Tilefish, King Mackerel, Shark and Swordfish.

Unfortunately, there is also another risk with tuna that we should keep in mind. Sometimes tuna (as well as mahimahi, bluefish, mackerel and some other fish) can sometimes have high levels of histamine protein. This can lead to scromboid poisoning in people who are sensitive. A glass of wine with your dinner could accentuate the effect.

Histamine is not a natural fish toxin. It occurs when certain fish spoil as a result of bad storage and handling. Usually, you cannot tell by the smell or appearance of the fish. In fact, there has been a recall of tuna by Rouses Markets in the Louisiana area for that reason (the fish came from the Gulf of Mexico). Last year, Whole Foods also had to recall its frozen yellow-fin tuna last April, because of elevated histamine levels (see earlier alert). These are just two examples. It's not all that uncommon. By the way, cooking or freezing the fish will not destroy the histamine.

In the case of some kinds of food poisoning symptoms will take days to develop. But scromboid poisoning is often very fast - 2 minutes to 2 hrs. Symptoms can last up to 24 hrs. If you are ever eating tuna (or one of these other fish) and get sudden flushing, sweating, headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting,a rash like sunburn, and an odd metallic or peppery taste in your mouth, get help right away. But many doctors are not familiar with the symptoms.

Scromboid poisoning is usually not fatal - just very frightening and unpleasant. However, if you are taking certain medicines that slow down breakdown of histamine by the liver, you need to be especially careful.



Anonymous said...

Aren't tuna being overfished? If so, this is another reason not to eat them.

Anonymous said...

ate a fish dinner in florida several years and was throwing up like crazy about 1 hour after leaving restaurant. probably was scromboid. trouble is the fish tasted great.

Justin Petre-Mears said...

Just had this 2 days ago in Sherborne UK straight to hospital feeling very weird and starting to panic 2 hrs later feel fine but stuck in smallest room in house for the day