Study traces food poisoning to tuna burgers

Tuesday, March 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Tuna burgers may be hazardous to your health, according to a government study that traced food-poisoning outbreaks in North Carolina to the relatively new menu item.

Made with ground tuna, the burgers may be especially susceptible to contamination with histamine, a chemical produced by bacteria.

The grinding process can mix bacteria into the fish or increase the tuna's temperature through friction, the researchers reported in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Affected fish may appear and smell normal, and cooking does not destroy the toxicity.

``A simple and cost-effective test that is sensitive enough to detect contamination before a health problem occurs is needed,'' said the researchers, led by Karen Becker of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 1994 to 1997, North Carolina averaged no more than four cases a year of histamine, or scombroid, poisoning. But in an eight-month period in 1998-99, 22 cases involving tuna were reported. All but one were linked to restaurants. Eighteen of the patients had eaten tuna burgers.

Sophisticated tests showed histamine levels far above Food and Drug Administration limits.

Most cases were blamed on inadequate refrigeration. One restaurant did not properly sanitize a grinder.

Symptoms may include mouth tingling, an upper body rash, vomiting and heart palpitations. None of the patients suffered serious complications.