Listeria And Smoked Fish – What To Know

Listeria and smoked salmon

The centuries old method of smoking and curing fish has been common in coastal towns up and down the UK through the span of time, using tried and tested methods of preserving foods long before refrigerators appeared on the scenes.  The delicious oaky flavour of smoked products has not lost its appeal today and it is still considered a safe and effective way of preserving and flavouring food.

Since 2020, however, there have been some isolated reports of listeriosis in England and Scotland.  6 of these cases have occurred since January 2022, and the common link between those affected was that most had eaten smoked fish.

Listeriosis is a rare food borne illness caused by bacteria called listeria which is found in soil and water.  The most common symptoms are fever, aches, diarrhoea, and a headache and they usually appear within two weeks of eating the contaminated product.  For most individuals, the symptoms will pass within a week but it can present a serious risk for pregnant women, over-65s and those with weakened immune systems.

Smoked fish is not the only culprit when it comes to potential listeria threat, however, and there are other food items which could be hazardous.  It is most likely to be found in chilled, ready-to-eat foods located in the pre-prepared sections of any supermarket, but with such stringent hygiene procedures in the UK, the likelihood of contracting listeriosis from your meal-deal sandwich or salad is very low.  Items such as cooked or cured meats and shellfish, paté and unpasteurised products also fall within this category.  In the US this year, there has been an outbreak of listeria linked to soft cheeses, particularly brie and camembert, and products have been recalled.  Five of those affected were hospitalised and the authorities are continuing to investigate the spate of cases.

Back here in the UK, the Food Standards Agency closely monitors the listeria outbreak.  Tina Potter from the FSA advised members of the public who fall into the at-risk category to reduce risk by making sure chilled ready-to-eat smoked fish is stored at 5⁰C or below and eaten by its use-by date and the guidelines on the food label adhered to.  Thorough cooking will destroy listeria bacteria so it is advisable to cook smoked fish thoroughly until it is piping hot.

It should be noted that the cases of listeria linked to smoked fish in the UK are few and this kind of food borne illness is extremely rare.  There are family run industries up and down the country that have been producing fine smoked fish products for generations and they abide by strict hygiene laws to ensure their foods are safe as well as delicious, enriching the culinary experience of many every day.