Oily fish can have a high histamine content. / sur

Health warning issued in Spain regarding tins of tuna with high levels of histamine

Too much of this substance can result in food poisoning which is usually mild but can be serious in some cases


The Spanish Food Safety and Nutrition Agency (Aesan) recently warned that two brands of tinned tuna in Spain – Montey and Didilo - have been withdrawn for sale after an excess of histamine was detected in them, and recommended that anyone who has the product at home should return it to the place they bought it.

But what is histamine, and how can it be dangerous to health?

Aesan says histamine is an inflammatory substance which belongs to the group of biogenic amines that the body produces naturally. It is part of the immune system and fulfils different functions such as regulating the stomach, acting as a neurotransmitter for the nervous system and reacting against allergic agents such as dust, pollen or mould.

The problem for health is when the amount of histamine in the blood is higher than normal. This can be caused by internal reasons, when the body releases more histamine than usual, for example, due to allergies, and also by external causes such as consuming food which contains a very high quantity of this substance.

Oily fish

Many foods contain concentrations of histamine, but because of their high histidine content, people need to be especially careful about oily fish such as tuna, anchovies, sardines, herrings and mackerel and foods deriving from them.

Some other fermented foods or those marinated in brine can have high concentrations of histamine, including cheeses, cured meats, fermented vegetables, anchovies in vinegar or salted, fish sauces, canned food and any fresh food that is processed to make it last longer.

Food poisoning

The food poisoning occurs when the quantity of histamine in a food is high, which may be due to poor quality of raw materials, being subjected to high temperatures for prolonged periods or inadequate refrigeration.


In the most serious cases of poisoning due to histamine, the symptoms can be cramps, nausea, bronchial spasms, hot flushes and severe respiratory problems. In most cases they ease with 12 to 24 hours. There may also be itching, a burning feeling in the mouth or throat, inflammation, hives on the upper body, headache and a general feeling of being unwell. These symptoms can appear rapidly after consuming the food in question, between two minutes and two hours.