Minimising Amine Formation in Meat, Dairy, and Eggs

People can have different types of reactions to amines. The most common reaction is a slow, subtle build-up reaction that is hard to spot. More sensitive individuals, or individuals who have consumed high doses of amines, may notice a specific amine reaction on the day, the night, or the following day after eating amine-containing foods.

red wine

Typical culprits of amine-poisoning reactions include:

  • Some red wines and live beers
  • Fermented and aged foods
  • Strong cheeses
  • Fish that is not fresh enough
  • Meats that have been hung or aged

Reactions of this kind are usually due to high doses of tyramine, histamine, or glutamate.

It is possible to ostensibly do the failsafe diet for months without ever noticing an amine reaction, because you are still eating too many amines in unsafe meat. This means that your symptoms can remain chronic and you may dismiss food chemical intolerance as a cause of your symptoms. Please ensure you have followed the guidelines below.

hard cheeses

The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit advise that:

  • Meat should be less than two weeks from slaughter when purchased
  • Meat should not be stored frozen for more than one month

Depending on your sensitivity level you may have to tighten up these rules further. Some very sensitive individuals do not tolerate meat that is more than a few days old.

What you should avoid:

  • Vacuum packed meat of any kind is very high in amines and is likely to be several months old. It is standard practice in supermarkets in the UK, Australia and the US to “wet age” meat in vacuum packs for around three months before putting it on sale.
  • Meat sold as “fresh” at supermarket counters has usually been vacuum packed prior to sale and is likely to be of a similar age to vacuum packed meat.
  • Pork naturally contains amines and must be avoided. Even freshly slaughtered organic pork.
  • All oily/dark flesh fish like tuna and salmon contain amines, so stick to white fish only.
  • Supermarket chicken can be very variable in quality and is often around ten days old prior to sale, having been stored and transported for many miles. Cheap chicken may contain injected flavour enhancers.
  • Beef from butcher’s shops is usually hung prior to sale and is likely to be around three weeks old. “Quality” butchers often hang meat for around six weeks prior to sale. This is too old for failsafers.
pizza

What you should do:

  • Find a beef supplier whom you can trust who will give you an accurate slaughter date, and perhaps butcher your meat to order for you. Veal may be a safer option as it does not require hanging to tenderise (note: only white veal is cruel, veal per se is just a young animal). Medium quality butchers and market vendors will often sell beef without hanging it for very long. The meat will be tougher, but much fresher. Very tough meat can be stewed, roasted and minced.
  • Lamb is safer than beef as it is not usually hung for more than a week or two before sale.
  • Fresh, non-vacuum packed chicken is typically safe but do not eat the skin, as it contains amines. Whole chickens are the best option as they are not normally vacuum packed. Avoid cheap chickens as they are often brined and injected with flavour enhancers. Organic chickens are the safest in this respect. Do not eat ground/minced chicken as the mince usually contains the skin. If you want to make a soup or stock, remove the skin from the chicken carcass first. Chicken can be very variable in quality due to the dubious handling practices of some suppliers. If you think you may have had an amine reaction to chicken, keep trying new suppliers, you will eventually find a reliable source.
  • White fish should be bought from fresh fish counters only. The eyes of the fish should not be cloudy, and the fish should be resting on ice.
  • Buy from the back of the fridge. Ask for fish that is nearest to the ice or for cuts of meat that have to be butchered to order in the back of the shop. Select dairy products from the back of the fridge where the temperature is coldest.
ham

Never eat vacuum packed meat or meat from a supermarket

This rule cannot be emphasised enough. Most people make this mistake. No vacuum packed meat or supermarket meat is failsafe. Vacuum packing superficially preserves meat by preventing oxidation. This means that the meat stays red and does not turn brown. However, vacuum packing does not prevent amine formation and can even enhance it. This means that the meat appears to be fresher than it actually is. Most vacuum packed meat, especially supermarket meat, has been “wet aged” to increase tenderness and flavour. This means it has been refrigerated in vacuum packs for around three months before sale. This is not an exaggeration. Virtually all supermarkets employ this technique, even apparently fresh meat that is sat open on display in refrigerated supermarket counters has usually been wet aged in vacuum packs prior to being butchered. When you buy meat, try to find out the slaughter date. You may be surprised. Chronic symptoms will not clear up on a diet that contains old meat.

Do find a good supplier with a fast turnover

Try to find a local butcher’s shop or a farm shop you trust where you can find out how old the meat is before it is sold. Vacuum packed meat from a farm shop is not safe! Check the temperature of the display counters where the meat is stored. Is the meat red or brown? Browning indicates the meat has been on display for a while. Try to find somewhere that sells meat that is only a few days old and butchered to demand. Buy on a busy day like a Saturday when the turnover of meat is the fastest, or find out the weekly slaughter date and visit as soon as the new meat has been put out to buy. Buy around lunch time after the previous night’s meat has been sold from the counter, and before the new meat on display gets too warm. Amines accumulate on the surface of the meat where there is bacterial contamination, so it also helps if the meat is butchered to order.

Learn to trust your sense of taste

Once you have found a good supplier, you will learn to tell whether the meat you are eating is fresh or not: fresh meat tastes much less “meaty” and strong in flavour. It does not smell strong. If the beef is from a mature animal, it will be tougher. This can be compensated for by mincing, stewing, roasting, or selecting thin cuts like minute steak.

Use sensible storage and handling techniques

When you get your meat home from the butcher’s, divide it into individual portions and freeze it immediately. Do not store your meat in the fridge. When you are ready to eat the meat, thaw it out fast in hot water or the microwave just before your meal. Steaks and chops thaw in around ten minutes when warmed. Do not store meat in the refrigerator for more than a day. Cooked meat does degrade very quickly, never leave cooked meat in the fridge. If you roast a joint, do not store leftovers in the fridge! Let it cool down for an hour and then freeze it again in portions until you want to eat it.

If in doubt, don't

Amines accumulate on the surface of the meat where there is bacterial contamination. It may be worth rinsing meat prior to cooking. If you have some leftovers in the fridge, don’t eat them. Give them to a less sensitive family member or feed them to the family dog! If you have no other option, try cutting off the surface of a cold roast to see if you tolerate the interior. Over time you will learn your tolerance level for amines and will be able to relax storage rules appropriately, but not before going through the initial elimination tests.

Stuck for a safe source?

If you can’t find good sources of red meat, stick to eggs, chicken and fish for a while to see if it makes a difference. Remember to buy quality chicken that hasn’t been vacuum packed.

Soups, broths and stocks

Do not use leftover bones that have been waiting in the fridge. If you are using a chicken carcass, begin your stock as soon as you have finished roasting/eating your dinner. Only cook the stock for a couple of hours. When it is ready, cool it down very quickly by pouring it into a suitable container and setting it in a sink of cold water. Freeze it in appropriate portions or eat it the same day.

Eggs?

Eggs are usually safe and keep for several weeks, but do store them in the fridge. Raw eggs contain enzyme inhibitors which are designed to preserve them from bacterial contamination and decay. Once you have cooked your eggs or put them into a food like a quiche, custard, or mayonnaise, you must treat that food like any other protein food and eat it immediately or freeze it.

Dairy?

Stick to fresh milk, cream (choosing from the back of the refrigerator in the store), and minimal amounts of yoghurt and cottage cheese until you are aware of your tolerance level. Throw away dairy products that have been open for more than three days. Avoid “probiotic” yoghurts and fermented/kefir drinks at all costs! Unlike traditional yoghurt cultures, probiotic cultures almost always contain bacteria that produce amines. These can cause nasty delayed reactions, particularly if they survive into the intestinal tract and begin to break down food there. In the UK, safe (non-probiotic) brands of yoghurt include Woodland’s live sheep’s milk yoghurt and Total Greek yoghurt.

All of these things really do make a huge difference – it’s worth doing them!