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Be careful when eating smoked escolar

12/2003, 16.05.2003

Health concerns notified from Australia - No reports of any cases from Germany up to now

After consuming particularly large amounts of "escolar" or "oil fish", particularly sensitive individuals may suffer health disorders like diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, headaches and vomiting. BfR, therefore, advises consumers to exercise caution when eating products of this kind. Escolar or oil fish are generic terms used to describe various fatty types of fish sold on the market which are trapped as by-catch during deep-sea fishing.  In Germany they have been on the market for some years as hot-smoked oil fish pieces and are called "smoked oil fish", formerly known as "smoked escolar".

The Australian health authorities have reported health problems after eating escolar (species Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) and oil fish or escolar (species Ruvettus pretiosus) (http://www.health.gov.au/pubhlth/cdi/cdi2603/html/cdi2603k.htm). Experts suspect that these problems have been caused by poorly or completely indigestible wax esters which make up 90% of the oil or fat of these two types of fish. It has yet to be clarified whether the wax esters are solely responsible for disorders of this kind or whether other factors are involved. Possible causes are specific, allergenic fish proteins or biogenic amines (for instance histamine) which may be formed in fresh fish when stored for longer periods. Nor is it known what amounts of fish or wax esters have to be consumed in order to trigger health disorders of this kind.

According to a study by the Federal Research Agency for Fishing, Hamburg, the oil or fat from the smoked escolar and oil fish sold on the market in Germany also consists to more than 90% of wax esters. Up to now, no health disorders have been reported in Germany following the consumption of fish products of this kind.  However, it cannot be ruled out that sensitive individuals will manifest similar symptoms to those which occurred in the persons affected in Australia. 

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