- People in multiple states have been sickened with a foodborne toxin called scombrotoxin after eating tuna.
- The grocery chain Kroger sold the yellowfin tuna steaks before they were recalled.
- Scombrotoxin can cause food poisoning that resembles an allergic reaction.
Several batches of yellowfin tuna steaks are being recalled after being sold at grocery chains like Krogers because the fish may be contaminated with the foodborne toxin scombrotoxin.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became aware of the spoiled fish earlier this month after multiple people reported symptoms of scombroid poisoning after eating tuna steaks bought at Kroger stores in Ohio.
The organization is now urging consumers to not eat the fish, as scombroid poisoning causes an illness that closely resembles an allergic reaction — think flushing of the face, rash, sweating, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
“Scombroid poisoning results from eating certain types of fish that are inadequately preserved and improperly refrigerated immediately after they are caught,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician with Lenox Hill Hospital. “It looks like an allergic reaction, but in reality is the result of toxins produced by specific bacteria in the tissues of the fish.”
Kroger has removed all of the tuna from the shelves and has notified customers about the contamination, according to the FDA.
The contaminated fish is being voluntarily recalled by Alfa International Seafood, Inc. of Medley, Florida. In addition to the Kroger grocery stores the products were sold at Baker’s, Dillon’s, Gerbes, JayC Food, and Payless.
The items were sold in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The products had sell-by dates from Aug. 29, 2019, to Sept. 14, 2019, and were sold either at a seafood counter or in store-prepared Styrofoam trays. Five people have reported symptoms, according to a release from the company posted on the FDA website.
This type of fish poisoning can’t be detected by either taste, smell, or appearance, and it can’t be prevented by cooking, smoking, or freezing the fish.
“There is no particular odor to fish that harbor the toxin, making it quite problematic for those preparing as well as eating the fish,” said Glatter.
If you bought the contaminated tuna steaks, it’s best to toss them or return the product to the store for a full refund.
The illness — which is caused by fish that hasn’t been stored or refrigerated properly — creates a buildup of bacteria that emit high levels of histamines, making the fish toxic.
“Scombroid poisoning is a reaction to toxic levels of histamine that build up in certain fish,” explained Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.
According to Adalja, symptoms are similar to those of an allergic reaction and include flushing, rash, headache, and, most commonly, diarrhea.
Scombroid poisoning sets in faster than most foodborne illnesses, appearing within minutes to 2 hours after consumption.
Some may experience blurred vision, swelling of the tongue, and respiratory stress.
Most people will experience symptoms for up to 12 hours before they clear up on their own.
If symptoms persist or worsen, however, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor. This is especially true for older people, those with compromised immune systems, and young children.
“The diagnosis of scombroid poisoning is made by the appearance of the characteristic rash along with nausea vomiting and diarrhea,” Glatter said.
In addition, it’s possible to measure histamine levels in the fish or in a patient’s urine, he added.
The condition can be treated with antihistamines, like Benadryl, which may be administered orally or intravenously.
“In rare cases, epinephrine or steroids may be necessary if edema of the airway or lip or tongue swelling develops,” Glatter added.
In general, though, severe, long-term cases aren’t common, and symptoms very rarely last longer than 2 days.
Yellowfin tuna steaks are being recalled over concerns they’re linked to scombroid poisoning. Scombroid poisoning occurs when fish isn’t stored or refrigerated properly, causing bacteria to grow and release high levels of histamines. When consumed, the spoiled fish can cause symptoms that resemble an allergic reaction. Most people’s symptoms clear up within 12 hours, but more severe cases can be treated with antihistamines orally or intravenously.