Name That Bug!

Pathogens, or “bugs” such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi can contaminate our food. Pathogens can make us sick when we eat them or can produce toxins that will make us sick. See if you can identify this bug:

  • I enter your system when you eat contaminated foods.

  • I am found naturally in foods – but can make you sick when there is too much of me.

  • I cause symptoms very quickly, sometimes immediately upon eating contaminated foods.

  • I can not be destroyed by smoking, canning, freezing or cooking.

  • I am one of the most common forms of fish-poisoning, but have also been linked to Swiss cheese.

  • My symptoms are similar to an allergic reaction. They vary from a burning sensation in the mouth, to upper body rash, and can progress to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

  • I can make anyone sick, although the elderly and immune-compromised may be more susceptible to serious symptoms.

Who am I?


Scombrotoxin / Histamine Poisoning


Bacteria are all around us, including inside of the fish we eat. When those fish stay in the temperature danger zone (especially above 50oF) after being caught, the bacteria begin to grow rapidly, and, as a result, histamines are created. Fish in the temperature danger zone at any point between the fishing boat and the kitchen table can develop an excess of histamine or scombrotoxin. Once these histamines have been created, they cannot be destroyed: not through cooking or freezing.


Fish most commonly associated with scombroid poisoning include tuna, mahi mahi, bluefish, sardines, mackerel and amberjack. But scombroid poisoning isn‟t just associated with fish. Other foods include Swiss cheese because a unique bacteria used in Swiss cheese making also creates excess histamine under ideal conditions.


Scombroid poisoning looks different in different people. Many people experience symptoms similar to that of an allergic reaction (burning sensation in the lips and tongue, facial swelling and hives), and it is often misdiagnosed as such. But for the young, elderly and immune-compromised, ingesting foods with toxic levels of histamine can be much more harmful. Serious illness may last anywhere from three hours to days and can cause permanent damage.


To prevent scombroid poisoning, keep fish on ice at all times - even if the fish has been previously frozen. Histamine production can occur whenever the fish is in the temperature danger zone, especially above 50oF. One important way to prevent scombrotoxin growth is to keep fish below 41oF by thawing frozen fish under refrigeration or under cold continuously-running water.

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