December 04, 2018 4:11 am

Safe Food Handling and Histamine Intolerance

In this post, we’ll explore the critical role of safe food handling in managing histamine intolerance.

If you have histamine intolerance, it’s crucial to recognise that unsafe food handling practices could cause your issues.

Histamine 101: Everything You Need to Know

Histamine can be produced in two primary ways. First, it naturally occurs in certain fresh foods like tomatoes, eggplant, and spinach. Second, pathogenic microorganisms can generate histamine.

Bacteria are commonly found in most animal-based foods, such as fish, meat, eggs, and cheese. When these foods are fresh, the bacteria levels are typically harmless, even for those with histamine intolerance.

However, under the right conditions, bacteria can rapidly multiply. Sometimes, this increase is intentional, as in the case of fermentation. More often, it’s unintentional, stemming from poor food handling practices or cross-contamination.

Moreover, poor food handling can lead to pathogenic gut infections, which are a significant cause of histamine intolerance.

For example, many gut infections detected in tests can be linked directly to unsafe food handling or cross-contamination.

Here are some simple but effective steps you can take to ensure safe food handling.

Safe Food Handling

The Importance of Safe Food Handling in Reducing Histamine Levels

Bacteria need specific conditions to thrive. Here are the key factors:

1. Food

Firstly, bacteria require food to grow.

They thrive in an acidic environment with a pH between 4 and 5.5. This doesn’t mean your diet needs to be alkaline, but it does emphasise the importance of safe food handling for acidic foods.

Cooked grains, dairy products, meat, fish, seafood, and coffee (especially coffee pods) create ideal conditions for histamine-producing bacteria.

In contrast, fruits and vegetables are less acidic, allowing for more relaxed handling. For instance, people with histamine intolerance may tolerate leftover fruits and vegetables.

2. Moisture

Secondly, bacteria need moisture to survive. Without it, they stop growing.

Traditional methods like salting, dehydrating, and smoking remove moisture and prevent bacterial growth.

However, bacteria can persist in water. Treated tap water doesn’t eliminate all parasites, so boiling, filtering (with PurOne or Berkey filters), and using reverse osmosis (with added minerals) are safer options.

Additionally, prewashed foods like store-bought bagged lettuce are at high risk due to moisture content.

3. Oxygen

Finally, bacteria need oxygen to grow.

Storing foods in air-tight containers improves safe food handling by depriving bacteria of oxygen, significantly reducing the risk of bacterial growth.

Further Considerations in Safe Food Handling

Temperature control is crucial for managing histamine levels in food, especially animal protein. Here’s how to use safe food handling practices:

1. Impact of Temperature

Firstly, temperature abuse significantly increases histamine production. 

Maintaining temperatures between 5 – 60 degrees Celsius (40 – 140 Fahrenheit) for animal products leads to high histamine levels. Once histamine forms, it is difficult to eliminate, so prevention is essential.

2. Food Transportation

Next, ensure proper temperatures during transport. 

Fish gutted within twelve hours and kept below 5 degrees Celsius remain safe. 

Additionally, smaller animals like chickens and rabbits are less prone to histamine build-up because they don’t need hanging. 

Safe food handling practices require animal products to be transported in cooler bags and placed in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible.

3. Food Storage

Similarly, freezing halts histamine production, while room temperature encourages it.

Store animal products and cooked grains in airtight glass containers in the fridge or freezer.

Fruits and vegetables can be stored more flexibly due to their lower histamine risk.

4. Thawing Foods

When thawing foods, use cold water to ensure safe food handling and minimise histamine levels.

Place food in leak-proof packaging, submerge in cold tap water, and change the water every 30 minutes.

Alternatively, defrosting in the fridge is another effective, though slower, option.

5. Cooking Methods

Finally, cook animal protein thoroughly above 75 degrees Celsius to stop histamine replication.

Methods like steaming or cooking in liquid below 120 degrees Celsius (250 Fahrenheit) preserve moisture and nutrition better than grilling or frying.

Safe Food Handling

Hidden Histamine Sources: Common Culprits

Cross-contamination happens when bacteria move from one object to another, often leading to pathogenic bacteria. Here’s how to prevent it an ensure safe food handling practices.

1. Cross Contamination

Firstly, we should be cautious with raw dairy products, meat, fish, seafood, and soil-based bacteria.

For example, if you use a chopping board for raw meat and don’t clean it properly, bacteria can multiply and transfer to other foods.

Similarly, a dishcloth used to wipe the board can harbour bacteria, which then spread to other surfaces.

2. Cleaning and Sanitizing

Next, while cleaning removes residues, it does not eliminate bacteria.

To kill bacteria, sanitise with temperatures above 75 degrees Celsius, a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, or HOCL solution. Using a dishwasher on a hot cycle also works well.

For a chopping board:

  1. Remove debris.
  2. Rinse with water and detergent.
  3. Wipe with a 3% hydrogen peroxide or HOCL solution.
  4. Rinse and air-dry.

3. Soil Based Bacteria

Furthermore, soil contains microbes, some of which aren’t beneficial. 

While healthy people can handle these, those with histamine intolerance or compromised immunity should ensure safe foo handling practices by wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.

Expert Strategies for Safe Food Handling With Histamine Intolerance

Food Preparation

  1. Always treat all raw foods as contaminated.
  2. Store raw foods separately or below cooked foods in the refrigerator.
  3. Use separate areas for raw and cooked foods.
  4. Never use the same equipment for raw and cooked foods.
  5. Don’t return tasting spoons to the cooking pot or use them for food preparation.
  6. Always wash your hands after handling raw food.
  7. Wipe down kitchen benches immediately after meal prep.
  8. Empty garbage and clean the bin daily.


Fruits and Vegetables

  1. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before use.
  2. Soak vegetables in a sink of cold water with ¼ cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide or baking soda for 20 minutes.
  3. Rinse in cold water before use.



  1. Avoid leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight.
  2. Hand wash dishes under running water, not in a full sink.
  3. Air-dry dishes instead of using tea towels, which harbor bacteria.
  4. Change dishcloths frequently to avoid cross-contamination.


By following these simple safe food handling practices, you can effectively minimize the risk of cross-contamination and keep your food safe.


In conclusion, safe food handling practices aren’t unique to histamine intolerance. In fact, in Australia, they are the standards required for any food-handling business. However, if you have histamine intolerance, you have even less room for error.

Furthermore, histamine naturally occurs in fresh foods like tomatoes, eggplant, and spinach.

Additionally, it can unintentionally form in foods like dairy products, meat, fish, and seafood when they are temperature abused or cross-contaminated.

By following these safe food handling practices, you can dramatically reduce the histamine content in your foods.

Consequently, this allows you to keep more variety in your diet, making it easier to manage your histamine intolerance effectively.

To learn more about how food handling affects our histamine levels, check out my blog post,  Easy Protein Swaps: That Lower Histamine Without Cutting Foods.

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Additional Reading

Colombo, Fabio M., et al. “Histamine food poisonings: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 58.7 (2018): 1131-1151.

Hosseini, N., et al “The Effects of Different Thawing Methods on the Hygienic Quality of the Canned Tuna.” Journal of Food Biosciences and Technology 7.2 (2017): 83-90.

Doeun, Dara, et al. “Biogenic amines in foods.” Food Science and Biotechnology 26.6 (2017): 1463-1474.

Chung, Bo Young, et al. “Effect of different cooking methods on histamine levels in selected foods.” Annals of dermatology29.6 (2017): 706-714.

Sukkon, Piyaporn, et al. “Effects of temperature and time of incubation on the formation of histamine in bonito tuna flesh.” Food and Applied Bioscience Journal 4.2 (2016): 97-106.

Martin, I. et al “Histamine intolerance and dietary management: A complete review.” Allergologia et immunopathologia 44.5 (2016): 475-483.

Giardini, Fausto, et al. “Technological factors affecting biogenic amine content in foods: a review.” Frontiers in Microbiology 7 (2016): 1218.

Suzzi, Giovanna, et al. “Biogenic amines in foods.” Frontiers in microbiology 6 (2015): 472.

Rodriguez, Mariana Bacellar Ribas, et al. “Bioactive amines: aspects of quality and safety in food.” Food and Nutrition Sciences 5.02 (2014): 138.

Kížek, Martin, et al. “Biogenic amines in carp roe (Cyprinus carpio) preserved by four different methods.” Food Chemistry 126.3 (2011): 1493-1497.

Chong, C. Y., et al. “The effects of food processing on biogenic amines formation.” International Food Research Journal 18.3 (2011).

Uribarri, Jaime, et al. “Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110.6 (2010): 911-916.