UK authorities issue listeria warning for smoked fish

Published on
August 31, 2022
Take-out containers

Vulnerable consumer groups in the United Kingdom are being advised that ready-to-eat smoked fish products potentially carry the risk of listeria monocytogenes infections. Listeriosis is a form of food poisoning caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Additionally, listeriosis in pregnancy can cause miscarriages and severe sepsis or meningitis in newborn babies.  

Food Standards Scotland (FSS), the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), and Food Standards Agency (FSA) advise to people over 65, pregnant, or have weakened immune systems they should ensure ready-to-eat smoked fish is thoroughly cooked before consumption.

Due to an ongoing outbreak of listeria monocytogenes which is unsafe for those who are susceptible to listeria infection.

An investigation has identified 14 linked cases of listeriosis since 2020, and eight since January 2022. Cases have been identified in England and Scotland. The majority of these individuals reported eating ready-to-eat smoked fish.

According to the FSS, most people affected get mild gastroenteritis subsiding in a few days.

However, certain individuals are particularly at risk of severe illness such as meningitis and life-threatening sepsis.

These include those over the age of 65, those with certain underlying conditions such as cancer, liver, or kidney failure, or who are taking medications that weaken their immune systems

FSS Head of Food Crime and Incidents Ron McNaughton said while the risks to the public of becoming seriously ill due to listeria are very low, it is important people who are vulnerable remain 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,” McNaughton said. “People can also further reduce the risk by keeping chilled ready to eat smoked fish cold (5 degrees Celsius 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.”

UKHSA Interim Deputy Director of Gastrointestinal Infections and Food Safety Saheer Gharbia said most people won’t have any symptoms of the infection or will only experience mild symptoms that usually pass within a few days without the need for treatment. But some people are at higher risk of much more-serious illness, she said.

“In light of this ongoing outbreak, we are advising pregnant and vulnerable people to only eat ready-to-eat smoked fish that has been thoroughly cooked to reduce the risk of listeriosis. If you have any concerns about your health please speak to your midwife, GP, or hospital specialist team,” she said.

FSS has created an online Smoked Fish Tool, which helps manufacturers assess their individual practices with tips and guidance to support safe production, including the use of cold- and hot-smoking and shelf-life.

Photo courtesy of BONDART PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock 

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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