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FAO/WHO scientific review of histamines in salmonids now published


Ahead of developing new international guidance for the control of histamine in fish and fishery products, the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene requested FAO and WHO to provide scientific information to consider whether salmonids, which have an extensive global market, should be included in this new guidance. The literature review developed by FAO and WHO on the risk of histamine development in fish of the Salmonidae family and the potential impact on human health, is now available online.

Histamine is a naturally occurring substance - it occurs when bacteria convert the amino acid histidine in food to histamine. Histamine poisoning can happen within a few minutes to several hours after ingestion, usually of foods that contain high levels of it.  It is often referred to as scombrotoxin fish poisoning because of the frequent association of the illness with the consumption of spoiled scombroid fish. In addition to certain species of fish, histamine can be found in fermented foods such as cheeses, salami, fermented vegetables as well as wine and beer.  

Histamine poisoning is usually a mild disorder that causes people to have symptoms that may be of a gastrointestinal (e.g. cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting), cardiovascular (e.g. flushing, rash, headache) or neurological (pain, itching) in nature. Although symptoms may persist for several days there are no known long-term sequelae and the outcome is rarely, if ever, fatal.

The review of the information available and accessible on scombroid fish poisoning (SFP) and SFP-like illness linked to Salmonidae includes experimental studies, survey data and details on cases and the strength of the evidence that fish form the Salmonidae  family was the source of the illness. The 50-page review also considers other relevant aspects such as histidine levels in Salmonidae and how that relates to histamine formation, global production and trade in Salmonidae and any rejections linked to histamine. 

The publication will be of interest to food regulators and practitioners – farmers, fishers, extension workers, researchers, scientists and academics.

Download the publication:

Photo credit: © Nikos Economopoulos/Magnum Phot / FAO