Vulnerable are advised to avoid eating smoked fish over food poisoning risk
- Ready-to-eat smoked fish can harbour bacteria that causes a bacterial infection
- Listeriosis can be serious and even life-threatening for older people, babies
- Cooking smoked fish until it is steaming hot should kill any dangerous bacteria
Older people and pregnant women should avoid smoked fish because of a rare chance of getting listeria food poisoning, experts have warned.
Ready-to-eat smoked fish, such as smoked salmon, can harbour bacteria that causes listeriosis.
In most people, listeriosis has no symptoms or only causes minor problems such as aches and pains or diarrhoea.
But for babies, older people or those with a weakened immune system, listeriosis can lead to serious and life-threatening problems such as sepsis or meningitis.
And getting listeriosis while pregnant could cause a miscarriage or stillbirth.
There have been 14 recorded cases of listeriosis since 2020, eight of them since January this year as part of an ongoing outbreak in the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said.
In most people, listeriosis has no symptoms or only causes minor problems such as aches and pains or diarrhoea. But for babies, older people or those with a weakened immune system, listeriosis can lead to serious and life-threatening problems such as sepsis or meningitis
The majority of these people – one of whom was pregnant – had reported eating ready-to-eat smoked fish. Cases have been identified in England and Scotland. The agency is now warning those over the age of 65, pregnant women, and those with underlying medical conditions such as cancer or who have weakened immune systems to make sure smoked fish is thoroughly cooked before eating it.
Cooking smoked fish until it is steaming hot should kill any dangerous bacteria, making it safe for anyone to eat, the FSA said.
Dr Caroline Handford, acting head of incidents at the FSA, said: ‘While the risks to the general public of becoming seriously ill due to listeria are very low, we need people who are vulnerable – specifically those over 65, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems – to be aware of the ongoing risks of consuming ready to eat smoked fish.
‘If anyone from these groups is eating ready-to-eat smoked fish, we are reminding them of the advice to ensure that it is thoroughly cooked before they eat it including when served as part of a dish.
‘People can also further reduce the risk by keeping chilled ready-to-eat smoked fish cold – 5C (41F) or below – always using products by their use-by date, following the storage instructions on the label, and cooking it until it is piping hot right through.’
Professor Saheer Gharbia, a food safety specialist at the UK Health Security Agency, which was also involved in investigating the outbreak, said: ‘Most people won’t have any symptoms of the infection or will only experience mild symptoms such as abdominal pain or diarrhoea, which usually pass within a few days without the need for treatment.
‘However, some are at higher risk of much more serious illness.’
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