By: Candess Zona-Mendola

Hepatitis A is again a concern for Hawai’i. Less than a year after a Hepatitis A outbreak was linked to scallops and sickened almost 300 people, the tropical paradise is again subjected to another scare. At least one victim who ate tainted scallops died of liver failure linked to the scallops outbreak. This time, a native Hawaiian dish, poke, may be involved. No illnesses have yet been reported. However, with a latency period of up to 50 days before symptoms show (if at all), caution is recommended.

About the Recall

On May 2, 2017, wholesale distributer Tropic Fish Hawai‘i, a subsidiary of CMU and Associates on the Big Island, announced the recall of a shipment of frozen ahi cubed tuna products. The products were imported from Indonesia. They were distributed on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu between April 27, 2017 and May 1, 2017. The recall affects about 2,300 pounds of the potentially tainted fish, and 1,440 pounds of these have been retrieved or disposed of. The company has confirmed that they have halted any further distribution at this time.

The recall notice comments that, during testing, the products yielded positive Hepatitis A results. According to the company’s President, Shawn Tanoue:

“Our normal procedure is to receive the test results prior to distribution, but unfortunately that did not happen with this particular shipment …We have corrected our procedures to ensure this will not happen again. I want to personally apologize to our customers and the public. We are a local company and pride ourselves in our work and in providing the highest-quality products.”

He further added, “[t]he test was being performed, and before the results came in, error in communication between the supplier and us, the product was released for sale.”

The company commented that it regularly tests products for its customers, including the Hawaiian supermarket chain Times Supermarkets. The local media reports that the supermarket chain implemented a testing requirement for all vendors following the scallop outbreak last year. Times Supermarkets were not the only retailers who sold the affected products. A list of all known stores include:

  • ABC Stores #38 (205 Lewers Street)
  • Aloha Sushi Nimitz
  • G.P. Hawaiian Food Catering
  • Maili Sunset Bar & Grill
  • Shima’s Market
  • Times Aiea
  • Times Kailua
  • Times Kaneohe
  • Times Kunia
  • Times Liliha
  • Times Mililani
  • Times Waipahu

The products may have also been purchased by food service companies or restaurants.

The Hawai‘i State Department of Health is Involved

After the recall announcement, the company informed the media that they contacted the Hawai‘i State Department of Health (DOH). Currently, the DOH is working with Tropic Fish Hawaii, LLC concerning this recall. The DOH commented to the media that Tropic Fish Hawaii, LLC informed them that approximately 200 of their 15-pound cases of frozen ahi cubes was tested and potentially contaminated. The DOH further mentioned that 140 of those cases were recovered prior to retail sale. According to the Chief of the DOH’s Food Safety Program Peter Oshiro,

“Times Supermarket and Tropic Fish notified the department as soon as they learned of the test results on the imported fish…All of the product is being traced, collected and held by the distributor. Fortunately, in this case, Tropic Fish Hawaii kept excellent records and has been contacting all retailers and pulling the product quickly.”

The DOH is also urging Hawaiian locals and those who recently visited the island of O’ahu, and who may have eaten raw ahi tuna or poke, to be vigilant. According to DOH’s State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park,

“Because it generally takes two weeks for those infected to develop symptoms of hepatitis A, vaccination or immune globulin can still provide some protection against the disease for those who may have been exposed in the last week …We remind those who received their first dose of hepatitis A vaccination during an earlier outbreak on Oahu to obtain their second dose for long term immunity.”

The DOH confirmed that they are working with the company and inspecting their facilities to ensure proper food safety practices were adhered. The product is currently under an embargo while the investigation is ongoing. The DOH is also working with federal authorities.

Retailers Respond

Several retailers have responded to the recall in a positive way. The Times Supermarket chain has closed all of its seafood departments pending the investigation. According to their Director of Marketing Christopher Borden, “[w]e’ve disposed of everything, and we did a full, top to bottom sanitation.” As of today, the DOH has inspected and cleared the company’s seafood departments. They have been fully cleaned and sanitized.

The ABC stores have also been proactive. Its CEO Paul Kosasa commented, “[t]he health and wellbeing of our customers and employees is of utmost importance. We would like to assure our customers that our food handlers practice strict food service sanitation procedures that meet all Department of Health requirements.”

What You Can Do NOW

Could you have Hepatitis A?

Many victims may not realize they have become infected with Hepatitis A as the symptoms can take a while to show (up to 50 days), and in some, may not show at all. Hepatitis A can be transmitted through food or drink, and infected individuals can still be infectious for up to two weeks before they develop any symptoms. Because of this, it can be difficult to tell if (or when) you may have become infected with Hepatitis A.

The symptoms of Hepatitis A can be broad. Those infected may just feel tired, run-down, or like they have a flu that is lingering. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Grey-colored bowel movements
  • Joint Pain
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin (Jaundice)

Oddly, children are the least affected by the more acute symptoms – like jaundice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 70-80% of people over 14 years of age who are infected will have jaundice, while children ages 6-14 years of age have only a 40-50% chance of jaundice, and children under 6 years of age have only 10% likelihood of getting jaundice. Adults older than age 50 who have another liver disease are the most at risk of liver failure, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

How to Prevent Hepatitis A Infection When You Eat Raw Ahi Tuna

Park recommends that residents or tourists who have eaten poke or ahi tuna from any of the affected food establishments should monitor their symptoms and adhere to good hygiene practices. Park commented, “In this case, it’s entirely preventable, which isn’t always the case … It’s thought that if you do get vaccinated with that first dose right now in this early phase you could prevent the symptoms.”

If you suspect that you or anyone you know may have Hepatitis A, hand washing is highly recommended. Also, it is a good idea to forgo sharing food or drinks with anyone.

There are vaccines for both Hepatitis A. Even if you have been vaccinated, it is wise to take precautions, as many of these precautions will also help prevent you becoming ill from other foodborne illnesses. To keep yourself safe from Hepatitis A, do not eat under-cooked food, especially scallops, ahi tuna, or other food harvested in other countries where they may not be under as strict of guidelines as United States food harvesters are required to follow.

Those who may have ingested the affected products, and are not vaccinated for Hepatitis A, are urged to contact their physician.

UnsafeFoods will continue to follow this recall and report on any new information as it is released.