Are you a fan of fish sauce?
This popular condiment is a staple in many Asian cuisines, adding a savory umami flavor to dishes.
But did you know that the fish used to make fish sauce can contain histamine, a toxin that can cause food poisoning?
In this article, we’ll explore which types of fish are commonly used to make fish sauce and how histamine is formed in these fish.
We’ll also discuss the regulations in place to ensure the safety of fish sauce and how to avoid histamine poisoning when consuming fish products.
So, let’s dive in and learn more about the fascinating world of fish sauce production!
What Fish Form Histamine Fish Sauce?
The species most commonly used for fish sauce production is Indian anchovy (Stolephorus spp.). These small fish are caught and kept on board before being mixed with salt to retard histamine formation.
Histamine is a toxin that can cause scombroid (histamine) food poisoning when consumed in high amounts. It is produced by naturally occurring bacteria that convert the amino acid histidine in fish proteins to histamine.
Upon the death of a fish, histamine-forming bacteria may start to grow in muscle tissue, producing histamine. This is particularly the case if fish are caught in warm ocean waters, there is a substantial delay between fish death and chilling, and/or fish are not stored under refrigeration.
While histamine production is more likely in raw, unfrozen fish, it should not be discounted in other product forms such as frozen, dried, or canned fish, or fish products such as fish sauce.
Types Of Fish Used In Fish Sauce Production
There are several species of fish commonly used in fish sauce production, including Stolephorus, Sardinella, and Cirrhinus. However, Indian anchovy (Stolephorus spp.) is the most widely used species for this purpose.
Indian anchovies are small fish that are caught and mixed with salt to retard histamine formation. This is important because histamine is a toxin that can cause scombroid (histamine) food poisoning when consumed in high amounts.
It is worth noting that histamine is produced by naturally occurring bacteria that convert the amino acid histidine in fish proteins to histamine. This means that upon the death of a fish, histamine-forming bacteria may start to grow in muscle tissue, producing histamine.
Therefore, it is crucial to handle and store fish properly to minimize the risk of histamine formation. This includes catching fish in cool waters, ensuring prompt chilling after fish death, and storing fish under refrigeration.
How Histamine Is Formed In Fish
Histamine is formed in fish when bacteria that naturally occur in the skin, gills, and gut of fish break down histidine, an amino acid found in the muscles of certain fish species that contain naturally high levels of this amino acid. Some examples of these fish species include mackerel, herring, sardines, and tuna.
In the case of fish sauce production, the quantity of histamine produced is related to the free histidine content in the raw materials. During fermentation, protein hydrolysis is caused by endogenous proteinases in the fish muscle and digestive tract as well as proteinases produced by halophilic bacteria. This process can lead to the formation of histamine in traditional fish sauce.
To prevent histamine formation, producers with good manufacturing practices would mix fish with salt after the catch, which retards histamine formation. However, some keep fish without salt for up to 8 hours before landing and transport to a factory in an open container without a proper cooling system. Due to the nature of raw materials and the production methods for traditional fish sauce, high levels of histamine are found in many samples.
It is important to note that histamine formation can be prevented or minimized by proper handling and storage of fish. Fish should be kept under refrigeration as soon as possible after being caught or harvested to prevent bacterial growth and histamine formation.
Risks Of Histamine Poisoning From Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is a fermented product that is commonly used as a condiment in many Asian cuisines. It is made by mixing fish with salt and allowing it to ferment for several months. During the fermentation process, histamine-forming bacteria can grow and produce histamine in the fish sauce.
Consuming fish sauce that contains high levels of histamine can lead to scombroid (histamine) food poisoning. Symptoms of this type of food poisoning include flushing, headache, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases, it can also cause difficulty breathing and low blood pressure.
The risk of histamine poisoning from fish sauce depends on several factors, including the type of fish used to make the sauce, the storage conditions of the fish before fermentation, and the fermentation process itself. Indian anchovy (Stolephorus spp.) is the most commonly used fish for making fish sauce, and it is known to be prone to histamine formation.
To reduce the risk of histamine poisoning from fish sauce, it is important to ensure that the fish used to make the sauce are fresh and properly stored before fermentation. The fermentation process should also be closely monitored to prevent excessive histamine formation. Additionally, consumers should be aware of the symptoms of scombroid food poisoning and seek medical attention if they experience any symptoms after consuming fish sauce or other fish products.
Regulations And Safety Measures For Fish Sauce Production
Fish sauce production is subject to several regulations and safety measures to ensure the quality and safety of the final product. The Codex Stan 302-2011 standard applies to fish sauce produced by fermentation of a mixture of fish and salt, and may include other ingredients added to assist the fermentation process. The standard requires that the quality of fish sauce production must be consistent with disclosed information and its composition must not contain any substances harmful to human health.
The production process for fish sauce involves mixing fish with salt and fermenting the mixture in covered containers or tanks for not less than 6 months. Other ingredients may be added to assist the fermentation process. The finished product must meet all requirements of the Codex standard and be adequately described on the label to avoid confusing or misleading the consumer.
In addition, national regulations on heavy metal contamination of food products issued by the Ministry of Health require that the allowed maximum amount of inorganic arsenic in sauces is 1mg/kg. Therefore, strict control and hygiene requirements apply throughout the production process to ensure the highest food safety level.
To prevent histamine formation in fish sauce, Indian anchovy (Stolephorus spp.) is commonly used, and these small fish are caught and kept on board before being mixed with salt. This is done to retard histamine formation, as histamine is a toxin that can cause scombroid (histamine) food poisoning when consumed in high amounts. Histamine is produced by naturally occurring bacteria that convert the amino acid histidine in fish proteins to histamine. Therefore, it is important to ensure that proper storage conditions are maintained for all fish products, including fish sauce, to prevent histamine formation and ensure food safety.
Tips For Avoiding Histamine Poisoning From Fish Products
If you are sensitive to histamine, it is important to take precautions when consuming fish products to avoid histamine poisoning. Here are some tips:
1. Check the freshness of the fish: Histamine levels increase as the fish ages, so it is important to check the freshness of the fish before purchasing it. If you are unsure, ask your fishmonger or supplier about the date of catch and how it was stored.
2. Store fish properly: If you purchase fresh fish, store it in the refrigerator at a temperature below 40°F (4°C). Frozen fish should be kept at a temperature below 0°F (-18°C). Make sure to thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator or under cold running water.
3. Avoid canned and processed fish products: Canned and processed fish products, such as fish sauce, may contain high levels of histamine due to their fermentation process. It is best to avoid these products if you are sensitive to histamine.
4. Cook fish thoroughly: Cooking does not reduce histamine levels in fish, but it can help destroy any bacteria that may be present. Make sure to cook fish thoroughly until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C).
5. Be aware of cross-contamination: Histamine-producing bacteria can spread from one food to another, so it is important to prevent cross-contamination when handling and preparing fish. Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and storage containers for raw and cooked fish.
By following these tips, you can enjoy fish products without the risk of histamine poisoning. Remember to always check with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your histamine sensitivity or diet.