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1 Atatürk University Faculty of Agriculture Fishery Products Section, 25240



In this anthology, formation of histamine poisoning also known as Scombroid

which is an important bacterial metabolite especially in species belonging to
the Scombroidae family, and the source bacteria species, symptoms, treatment
methods and histamine analysis methods have been investigated.

Keywords: Scombridae, Histamine, Poisoning

1. Definition of Histamine

Scombroid fish poisoning also called as histamine poisoning is known as a

poisoning related with some types of dark meat fish consumption belonging to
Scombroidae and Scomberosocidae families which contain very large amounts of
histidine generally in their muscle tissues (Mlcneryey 1996).
Very large amounts of histamine formation in fishes cause histamine (Scombroid)
poisoning in human body. Histamine poisoning occurs by consuming fresh, frozen
or tinned fish products which contain high amounts of histamine (Çaklý and Kýþla
The symptoms of histamine poisoning are: headache, giddiness, nausea, stomach
ache, blushes in the face, swallowing difficulties, low blood pressure, itching,
body swellings and diarrhea (Clifford et al. 1989; Price 1989; Mitchell 1993;
Hwang et al. 1995; Kaneko 2000; Lehane and Olley 2000).

2- Histamine Formation

Histamine is formed by free histidine, which is present in large amounts in the

muscle tissues of fishes belonging to Scombridae family, decarboxylating with
decarboxylase enzyme of bacterial histidine (Jay 1992) (Figure 1).
There are various bacteria species facilitating decarboxylation of histidine
amino acid. In a study made by Middlebrooks et al. (1988), Spanish mackerel was
left to incubation at 0ºC, 15ºC and 30ºC temperatures and as a result of the
decarboxylation in the tissue of the mackerel, 14 kinds of bacteria species was
found (Acinetobacter lowfi, Aeromonas hydrophila, Clostridium perfringens,
Enterobacter aerogenes, Enterobacter spp., Hafnia alvei, Morgenalla morganii,
Proteus mirabilis, Proteus vulgaris, Proteus spp., Pseududomonas
fluorescens/putida, Pseudomonas putrefaciens, Pseudomonas spp., and Vibrio
alginolyticus). On the other hand it was found that species which are Klebsiella
pneumonia (Taylor et al. 1978), Klebsiella planticola (Taylor and Lieber 1979),
Alteromonas putrefaciens (Frank et al. 1985), Photobacterium phosphoreum (Morii
et al. 1986), Staphylococcus xylosus (Rodriguez-Jerez et al. 1994), Cedecea
lapagei, Cedecea neteri, Plesiomonas shigelloides (Lopez-Sabater et al. 1994),
Providencia spp. (Ababouch et al. 1991), Lactobacillus curvatus LTH 975 and
Lactobacillus buchneri LTH 1388 (Leuschner and Hammes 1999), Serratia spp.
(Lopez-Sabater et al. 1996) and Escherichia spp. (Çaklý ve Taþkaya 1995) are
more likely to facilitate decarboxylation at a higher rate.
Fresh scombroid fishes do not contain histamine, amins are formed according to
temperature and during decomposition. For example; it has been found that while
the level of histamine was low in a mackerel being stored at 0ºC for 18 days,
histamine level was high in a mackerel stored at 10ºC for only 5 days (Mitchell

The most important factor affecting the formation of histamine amount in fish
end other food products is the histidine amount present in these foodstuffs. The
optimum temperature and pH values for histamine formation differ from species to
species. Optimum temperature interval is between 20-30ºC. The most number of
poisoning events are seen in tuna, mackerel and sardine which are rich in
histidine (Wu et al. 1997; Chamberlain 2001). On the other hand, optimum pH
value is varying even in different species of the same bacteria. That means;
while type I of Proteus morgani is producing more histamine at pH:6, there is
nearly no histamine at pH:7. At type II, histamine is produced highly at pH:6,
while production can occur even at higher or lower pH values (Chamberlain 2001).

Generally histamine forms in red meat (dark meat) such as anchovy, mackerel,
salmon, and tuna fish and/or fat fishes. In white meats such as whiting and
turbot no histidine is present; therefore no histamine formation occurs in these
fishes no matter how bad the storing conditions are (Köse 1993). Other type of
fishes where histamine poisoning is widely seen are; tuna (Euthynnus pelamis),
yellow tail (Seriola dumerili), kahawai, bonito, mahi mahi (Coryphaena
hippurus), marlin (Makaira indica) and bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) (Mitchell
1993; Ben-Gigirey 1999; Lehane and Olley 2000; Chamberlain 2001).
Plahar et al. (1999), has determined the level of histamine with calorimetric
technique in raw, smoked and 6 months stored sardine and anchovy samples. Raw,
smoked and 6 months stored sardine contained sequentially 1.1 mg/100 g, 1.8
mg/100 g and 1.5 mg/100 g histamine while in anchovy samples, no histamine was

Zotos et al. (1995), have applied warm smoking method to frozen and stored
mackerel (Scomber scombrus) and observed the level of histamine. In samples only
frozen and stored, histamine increment was observed and after 22 weeks,
histamine amount reached to 50 mg/kg. It was found that because of smoking
application, 95% histamine increment occurred in samples stored for 11 and 33

Edmuns and Eitenmiller (1975), examined the histamine and histidine

decarboxylation levels of the Spanish mackerel (Scomberomerus maculatus) and
found out that these species contain high level of histamine.
Generally 100 mg/100 g histamine amount is accepted as toxic. According to
studies, below 5 mg/100 g is secure, between 5-100 mg/100 g is probably
poisonous and 100 mg/100 g is poisonous (Shabaly 1996).

In a study made in New Zealand, histamine level of 107 smoked fishes purchased
from a market was determined and found that 8 of them had more than 5 mg/100 g,
2 of them had more than 20 mg/100 g. In another test, 4 of 91 samples had more
than 10 mg/100 g of histamine while 2 of them had 100 mg/100 g or more (Fletcher
et al. 1998).
Despite FDA accepts histamine amount limit in fishes as 50 mg/100 g, generally
30 mg/100 g limit is used. Fishes having more than 50 mg/100 g histamine are
restricted to be consumed by the law published at 1996 (FDA 1996).

Besides, standards prepared at 1989 by the Italian Ministry of Healthcare on

fish families of Scombridae, Clupeidae and Engraulidae, has been adopted by the
World Healthcare Organization (WHO) and is as follows (WHO 1989):
1-) Histamine amount should not exceed 10mg/100 g in 7 of 9 taken samples.
2-) Histamine amount should not exceed 10-20 mg/100 g in 2 of 9 taken samples.
3-) Histamine amount of all analyzed fish samples should not exceed 20 mg/100 g.

Not only histamine is the responsible amine for histamine poisoning. Other
biogenic amines too (putresine, kadaverine, spermine, tiramine, and spermidine)
show strong histamine toxicity (Santos 1996; Ben-Gigerey 1999).

Scombroid fish poisoning unfortunately is treated as food poisoning in our

country. Therefore, it is vital to know the differences between histamine
poisoning and other poisonings. Histamine poisoning can be easily recognized
from other poisonings with the following characteristics (Mater vd. 2001).
1-) Not encountering any allergic reactions from the previous ate food,
2-) Occurrence of mass poisoning from the same nourishment,
3-) Observation of high histamine amount in the consumed food,

The first finding of histamine poisoning was made by Japanese scientists and
since the 50's, histamine poisoning events are being recorded. In other
countries, the first record for this disease was made during the 70's. (Köse
1999). After Japan, first USA then England are among the countries where the
disease was most reported. Besides these countries, Canada, New Zealand, France,
Germany, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Austria are nations where reports come
less frequently about that disease (Mater vd. 2001).

4164 histamine poisoning cases have been reported between 1970 and 1980 by Japan
Ministry of Healthcare (Köse 1999).
Hughes et al. (1977), declared that 29 of 68 fish and crustacean poisonings
encountered between 1970 and 1974, was histamine poisoning. Bartholomev et al.
(1987), has recognized 250 histamine poisoning from 1976 to 1986 in Britain.

At September 1977, histamine poisoning occurred in San Francisco and it was

found that the cause was tuna fish which contained a very high level of
histamine (919 mg/100 g) (Taylor 1979). In the United States, 1/3 of diseases
occurred from sea products is caused by histamine poisoning (FDA 1994).

It has been reported that events of histamine poisoning occurring in Taiwan

generally is seen in tuna (Euthynnus pelamis), mackerel (Scomber scombrus) and
black marlin (Makaira indica) fishes (Muray and Hobbs 1982; Chen and Molison
1987; Rocdh 1988, 1992).

3- Histamine Analysis Methods and Precautions Preventing

Histamine Formation

Among analysis methods recommended by AOAC (1995), the most widespread

techniques are as follows;
1-) Thin layer chromatography (TLC)\
2-) High performance fluid chromatography (HPLC)
3-) Calorimetric method
4-) Fluorometric method
The most important factor in histamine formation is temperature and histamine is
very strong against heat. Once formed, it is hardly to eliminate it. Therefore,
before the fishes are subjected to any process necessary precautions should be
taken. Especially the internal organs of the fishes must be removed and washed
before frozen.
It is hard to prevent histamine poisoning at chemical base. The best precaution
is to control the temperature in order to prevent micro organism breeding before
histamine production. Most bacteria cannot grow at temperatures below 4°C. So,
freezing during transportation of fishery products carries great importance.
Histamine production stops at 0°C, however at 4.4°C, the storage life of the
products decreases (Chamberlain 2001).
If Scombroid fish is frozen quickly at 0°C, its storage life will be 14 days,
but at 4.4°C, it is only 7 days (Mitchell 1993).
In our country, fishery products are presented for sale without any precautions
against histamine production in summer season. But fishes in many countries at
the rest of the world are frozen or stored at refrigerator conditions after they
have been caught. Fishes in our country should be stored in these conditions to
provide a safe consumption.
Besides these storing conditions, it is vital to determine the histamine level
of fishery products before being presented for sale.
Resources about Scombroid fish poisoning are insufficient in our country and
must be determined statistically. Also, our society should be informed about
histamine poisoning and studies in this subject must be performed.

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