It is not well known how the formation of styrene by microorganisms can occur in foods. In this study, we described and characterized the production of styrene by a yeast isolated from chikuwa fish paste. The styrene was not detected in fresh and normal food products nor in the food package's plastic film. The food containing styrene contained cinnamic acid as an antimicrobial agent and spice, and it was contaminated by 5.4 x 10(6) CFU of a yeast per gram. On the basis of morphological and biochemical features, the yeast isolated was determined to be a strain of Pichia carsonii, now designated strain CHI. Strain CHI, which was able to grow on cinnamic acid, had the ability to form styrene from trans-cinnamic acid via trans-p-coumaric and caffeic acids. The MIC of trans-cinnamic acid against strain CHI was 230 micrograms/ml. Strain CHI thrived well at pH 5.0 and 26.0 degrees C and was tolerant to 20% NaCl. Styrene was subsequently produced in ground fish meat containing cinnamic acid into which strain CHI had been inoculated. The yeast was found to be an environmental contaminant in food processing plants of the chikuwa manufacturer.