Opening a can of tuna and leaving it in the fridge for several days can cause poisoning that has recently affected a Spanish family and is sometimes confused with an allergy to fish.

Keeping the oily fish that we buy canned in the fridge once it has been opened for several days without first transferring it to another container is still an all-too-frequent custom that can result in the food becoming contaminated and causing a reaction known as scombroidosis in those who consume it.

It is the case of a family that was intoxicated after consuming some tuna sandwiches and that pediatricians have echoed.

Two 9-year-old twin brothers attended the medical consultation, with no history of interest, due to the sudden appearance of:

  • Stains.
  • Itching in different areas of your body.
  • Eye irritation.
  • No fever or associated gastrointestinal symptoms

His mother presented a similar but less intense picture. All of them reported that they had eaten an hour before the striking rash appeared, a sandwich prepared with tuna that was kept in the fridge in a can that had been opened several days before.

What is scombroidosis?

“And therein lies the error that gave rise to the reaction. What occurred was scombroidosis, which is poisoning by histamine, a substance that can accumulate in the muscle of the fish due to bacteria secondary to an inadequate cold chain” as experts explain

From histidine to histamine

Oily fish is rich in histidine, a natural amino acid in its composition, also present in other foods rich in protein. The point is that the meat of the fish can start to spoil if it is not properly preserved. This process may not be clearly visible to the naked eye and lead to the multiplication of bacteria with enzymes capable of transforming histidine into histamine in large quantities.

It is also necessary to take into account that histamine is not destroyed even if the fish is cooked and the danger arises when the concentration of histamine is high.

Histamine is a biological substance that the human body itself releases when it experiences an allergic reaction and that acts as a vasodilator, which is why it can give rise to spots and erythema when intoxication is triggered, as well as generalized itching.

Fish rich in histidine that can be converted into histamine if it is not kept in adequate conditions is, in general, oily fish, such as:

  • Tuna.
  • Mackerel.
  • Nice.
  • Anchovies.
  • Swordfish.
  • Lemon fish.
  • Sardines

What usually happens is:

  • A self-limited picture, which can disappear after 24 or 48 hours.
  • Although it is annoying and visible, it is not usually serious.
  • The usual thing is that it appears quite quickly once the contaminated food has been ingested, after between 15 and 90 minutes.
  • The manifestations are, above all, cutaneous and generalized itching.
  • It is not usually associated with digestive disorders, although on occasion this type of symptomatology may also occur, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and also a headache.
  • Even less frequent is the appearance of blurred vision, tachycardia or palpitations, as well as alterations in blood pressure or hypothermia.

How to avoid contamination

To try to avoid this type of poisoning, it is essential to preserve food properly. And this in the case of canned fish goes through:

  • Transfer it to another container once the can is opened if it is not going to be completely consumed that day.
  • Always keep it at a temperature preferably close to 0 degrees and always below 4 degrees. For this reason, it is recommended to store it in the lower part of the refrigerator, as it is the coldest area.
  • Consume it within a maximum period of 2 days, once the can is opened.

Not to be confused with an allergic reaction to fish

Despite the lack of knowledge on the part of the general population, Guerrero highlights that scombroidosis is the most frequent fish poisoning in the world. And although its incidence is greater in countries with a temperate climate and where, due to a lack of adequate infrastructure, fish conservation is generally deficient, in Spain it is also relatively frequent and can be confused with an allergy to fish when in fact it is a reaction due to its poor preservation.

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