Smoked fish has been the most commonly implicated product in presumptive cases of scombroid poisoning in New Zealand. One hundred seven samples of smoked fish were purchased from Auckland retail markets between July 1995 and March 1996, and their histamine and bacterial levels were determined. Eight samples, obtained from five of the nine retail outlets sampled, had histamine levels which exceeded 50 mg/kg, the level set by the FDA as an indicator of decomposition. Histamine levels in only 2 samples (346.4 and 681.8 mg/kg) exceeded a hazard level of 200 mg/kg. Thirty-three of the smoked fish were held at 20°C for 2 days, and 8 of these developed histamine levels above 50 mg/kg with 4 exceeding 200 mg/kg (maximum 1,659.4 mg/kg). The stored samples that exceeded 200 mg/kg were all obtained from two outlets. Within or between fish species there were no consistent relationships between levels of histamine in the samples and either the total aerobic plate counts or the numbers of histamine-producing bacteria. To the contrary, there was evidence that histamine had been formed prior to smoking and that histamine-producing bacteria were eliminated during smoking.

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