Food digest September 2019

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food digest

September 19, 2019

In this issue

Great opportunity for two of our inspectors!

In July of this year, two Hennepin County health inspectors attended the National Environmental Health Association’s Annual Education Conference (NEHA AEC 2019) in Nashville. Having received scholarships to attend, both were willing to brave the Tennessee humidity to participate in this important opportunity. Climate change was the primary theme that resonated throughout the entire conference. Specifically, climate change was being discussed as a current reality, not a distant possibility. Multiple state, local, city, and federal agencies present at the conference reported that negative changes are already occurring and affecting human health, and that health departments are now operating within a climate crisis.

The health inspectors learned of many strategies and plans to reverse these effects, but the most important learning was an easy take away for us all: talk about it! Research presented by experts from an array of fields proved that we can make a positive difference just by keeping the climate crisis in the forefront of our discussions.


Pictured above: Hennepin County Senior Environmentalist Amy Zagar with former Hennepin County employee and retired NEHA president, Vince Radke

Hennepin County continues to lead local efforts to reduce food waste, increase environmental education and outreach, and protect our precious Minnesota waters. We will also continue to talk about the impacts of the climate crisis on all of us, and we hope that you will join in those conversations.


Pictured above: Hennepin County Environmentalist Twila Singh at far left, after accepting her scholarship award

A toxic catch…scombroid fish poisoning


Its 1:23 a.m., I have been tossing and turning all night with intense nausea and have begun vomiting. This exasperating tingle and burning sensation in my mouth is getting worse. I try to sleep it off, but it is so persistent and my head has been pounding since we got home from dinner at my favorite sushi restaurant. I head to the kitchen for some water and suddenly my whole upper body begins to itch. I run to the bathroom mirror and to my horror see I’m covered in hives and my usually pale face is bright red. Anxiety kicks in, something is terribly wrong. I wake my husband and we head straight to the ER. I tell the nurse my symptoms: dizziness, rash, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and the tingle in my mouth, and that it had all started right after dinner. I originally thought it was the wine, or just some over-excitement for my birthday. We soon find out I have scombroid fish poisoning from the sushi roll I ate at dinner. We immediately called our other dinner friend and found she had suffered similar symptoms and also ended up in the hospital.

According to the CDC, "scombroid (SKOM-broyd) is caused by eating fish that has not been properly refrigerated or preserved and therefore contains high levels of histamine."

Scombroid symptoms usually develop within a few minutes to an hour after eating contaminated fish. They generally resemble an allergic reaction, such as flushing of the face, headache, heart palpitations, itching, blurred vision, cramps, and diarrhea. Symptoms can be treated with antihistamines; even without treatment, people usually get better within 12 hours."

Fish typically associated with scombroid include tuna, mackerel, mahi-mahi (dolphin fish), sardine, anchovy, herring, bluefish, amberjack, and marlin. They have naturally high levels of histidine in their flesh. Histidine is converted to histamine by bacterial overgrowth in fish, which has been improperly stored after capture. Histamine and other scombrotoxins are resistant to cooking, smoking, canning, or freezing.

While the details of this victim’s story were changed to maintain confidentiality, it is based on an outbreak that happened in Minnesota within the past 5 years. Bottom line, the risks and possibilities of scombroid fish poisoning are real and can be life threatening to some people. As a facility operator, you are the last line of defense in ensuring a safe product. It is important to note that while proper cooking may kill some bacteria, scombroid toxins will not be affected by heat and can cause a very severe reaction.

The following steps are tips to follow when preparing and handling fish:

  • Refrigerate fish (at 41°F or less) from the time of capture to the time it is cooked
  • Fish with a bad odor or “honeycombed” appearance should not be served
  • Purchase fish only from reputable retail outlets
  • Keep all fish records in the event of an outbreak
  • Pay attention to recalls

Revision to the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA)

Starting August 1, 2019, the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA) was revised to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes and vapes in areas of Minnesota that didn't already prohibit use. For more information, see the Minnesota Department of Health's news release.

Under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, the use of e-cigarettes and vapes, often called vaping, will be subject to the same prohibitions and restrictions as cigarette smoking, protecting Minnesotans from exposure to e-cigarette use in all restaurants, bars, and almost all indoor workplaces and public places.

While the law expanded protections statewide on August 1, many Minnesota communities have been limiting e-cigarette use indoors for years. Before the state law change, at least 25 counties and 31 cities in Minnesota had already added e-cigarettes to their clean indoor air policies. This is true for Hennepin County, which has prohibited the use of e-cigs and vaping in any public indoor space since March 10, 2015 (Hennepin County Ordinance 24).

E-cigarettes, “vapes,” e-pipes, and other vaping products are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale aerosolized liquid. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and harmful to the adolescent brain. Nicotine can affect learning, memory and attention span, and contributes to future addiction to tobacco and other substances.

Learn more about e-cigarettes and other vaping products at E-cigarettes and Vapes.

Smoke-free window clings can be ordered free of charge from the Minnesota Department of Health

Special food licensing for food trucks and stands

Attention all short-term food vendors, food truck operators, and food event coordinators:

Food vendors who intend to serve food or beverages at an event (free or for sale) require a food license.

Beginning July 1, 2019, everyone serving food in Hennepin County must have either a Hennepin County food license, Minnesota Department of Agriculture license, or Cottage Food Registration.  

There are three options for licensing special event food stands/vehicles in Hennepin County. Operators may obtain either:

  1. Annual License (for food trucks/mobile food units)
    1. Requires plan review with Hennepin County
    2. License good February 1st to January 31st each year
  2. Annual Reciprocity License (for food trucks/mobile food units)
    1. Option for those who are currently licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health or another jurisdiction within Hennepin County (such as the City of Minneapolis)
    2. Requires submitted application and applicable information
    3. License good July 1st to June 30th each year
  3. Special Event License
    1. Requires submitted application and payment
    2. Option for those operating short-term (21 days or less)
    3. License good for specific dates/events only

The following food/beverage items do not require a license:

  • Canned/bottled beverages that do not need refrigeration
  • Prepackaged candy
  • Nuts not mixed with any other items
  • Product of the farm
  • Food made by cottage food producer (still need Minnesota Department of Agriculture registration)

If there will be any alcoholic beverage service, verify with vendors if it will be:

  • Canned/bottled=no Hennepin County license required (alcohol permit may be needed)
  • Poured into cups and/or garnished=license required (alcohol permit may be needed)

Find more information on our website.

Direct questions to Hennepin County Public Health - Environmental Health at #612-543-5200.

About us

Food Digest is a quarterly newsletter written by inspectors from Hennepin County Public Health Department, and designed to support and educate Hennepin County food facility owners and operators. Articles focus on food safety and requirements from the Minnesota Food Code and Hennepin County food ordinance.


1011 First Street S, Suite 215
Hopkins, MN 55343-9413

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Past issues

Previous issues of Food digest available in our archive.

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Hannah Marschinke


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