FDA Investigates Scombrotoxin Fish Poisoning Linked to Yellowfin Tuna


While FDA asked for the supplier of yellowfin tuna associated with the majority of illnesses to initiate a voluntary recall, the firm has not recalled any product at this time.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with state authorities to investigate incidents of scombrotoxin fish poisoning linked to yellowfin tuna.

The FDA investigation has identified 47 illnesses of scombrotoxin fish poisoning that occurred between August 8, 2019, and October 15, 2019.

Though the FDA asked for the supplier of yellowfin tuna associated with the majority of illnesses, Truong Phu Xanh Co., LTD, to initiate a voluntary recall, the firm has not recalled any product at this time.

However, the agency has placed an import alert on the Vietnam based company Truong Phu Xanh Co., LTD. An import alert allows FDA field staff to seize the firm’s yellowfin tuna without physical examination; the detained product subsequently cannot enter the United States unless the importer demonstrates that it meets food safety standards.

FDA assessed Truong Phu Xanh Co., LTD’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Plan, a firm’s management system for addressing food safety. The evaluation identified deficiencies leading to the request for a recall of all imported yellowfin tuna with production dates from January 2019 to present.

During the investigation, FDA and state partners have been collecting product samples for testing. Scombrotoxin fish poisoning occurs when fish start to spoil, increasing histamine levels.

As a result, product samples cannot be tied to case patient samples via whole genome sequencing or pulsed-field gel electrophoresis analysis as is possible in other foodborne illnesses such as Listeria or Salmonella. Samples are instead tested for decomposition and histamine levels. Multiple samples with positive results for decomposition or high histamine levels have been connected to Truong Phu Xanh Co., LTD.

Epidemiologic and traceback information was collected for reported illnesses. As information was collected, FDA and state authorities identified companies throughout the supply chain to recall affected products.

While recalls were issued at various points in the supply chain, FDA warned that there may be product remaining on the market which could cause illness. Histamine cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing the product if it already contains elevated levels, so FDA has advised that any affected product retailers or consumers possess should be discarded.

FDA recommended that any yellowfin tuna from Truong Phu Xanh Co., LTD with a 2019 production date should not be consumed. Tuna from Truong Phu Xanh Co., LTD may have been sold both thawed or frozen, in forms such as ground tuna meat, poke cubes, loins, or steaks. FDA advised restaurants to confirm the source of their yellowfin tuna, as not all product affected was distributed in packaging that identifies Truong Phu Xanh Co., LTD.

In their statement on the matter, FDA officials wrote that “because scombrotoxin fish poisoning causes temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences this incident did not meet the threshold for the use of FDA’s mandatory recall authority.”

FDA noted that the source of tuna for similar illnesses announced by the Seattle-King County Public Health Department is not related to the Truong Phu Xanh Co., LTD. Product. Earlier in 2019, in September, FDA advised consumers not to eat yellowfin tuna steaks from a variety of Kroger retail stores in several states over another scombroid poisoning concern.

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