On September 4, 2019, the FDA became aware of multiple scombroid poisoning cases in individuals who consumed tuna steaks purchased from three separate Kroger retail locations in Ohio. On September 5, 2019, Kroger agreed to remove all yellowfin tuna steaks from their stores in AL, AR, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MO, MS, NE, OH, SC, TN, VA and WV as well as begin notifying consumers who had purchased this product to dispose of or return the product to the store.
According to the CDC, scombroid poisoning is named for a particular family of fish, “Scombridae,” which includes tuna and mackerel. The illness, though, can occur “after ingestion of any dark-fleshed nonscombroid species containing high levels of free histidine.”
The problem stems from improper refrigeration. When not properly stored, free histidine is broken down to histamine by surface bacteria.
Unlike some foodborne illness that can take many hours, if not days, to take effect, scombroid poisoning begins “minutes to hours after ingestion of the toxic fish.” The CDC identifies symptoms as resembling a “histamine reaction and frequently include dizziness, headache, diarrhea, and a burning sensation or peppery taste in the mouth. Facial flushing, tachycardia, pruritus, and asthma-like symptoms can also occur.”
The FDA has established 50 mg/100g of histamine as a hazardous level in tuna. Unfortunately, cooking toxic fish will not prevent illness. The CDC states, therefore, that the key to prevention of scombroid poisoning is “continuous icing or refrigeration of all potentially scombrotoxic fish from the time they are caught until they are cooked.”