By: Heather Williams
A voluntary recall of frozen raw tuna or ahi cubes is under way by Tropic Fish Hawaii, LLC. Ahi cubes used to prepare poke from April 27 – May 1 are affected.
Affected establishments include:
- Times Supermarket and Shima’s locations in Aiea, Kailua, Kaneohe, Kunia, Liliha, Mililani, Waipahu, and Waimanalo
- GP Hawaiian Food Catering
- The Crab Shack Kapolei (also known as Maile Sunset Bar & Grill in Kapolei)
- Aloha Sushi and 3131 N. Nimitz
- ABC Store at 205 Lewers St.
Persons who have consumed this product at several supermarkets and restaurants have been advised to contact their healthcare provider to receive the Hepatitis A vaccine, monitor their health for Hepatitis A symptoms for 50 days, use extra caution to wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, and, if symptoms develop, to stay home and contact their health care provider immediately.
If you have consumed ahi or poke at any of these locations, the state health department is asking you to monitor for symptoms for 50 days, as symptoms do not appear right away. If any of the following symptoms appear, contact your health care provider immediately:
- loss of appetite
- abdominal discomfort
- dark urine
- yellow skin and eyes
Receiving the Hepatitis A vaccine after contact with the virus can help prevent infection from occurring, but it is important to adhere to the recommended booster schedule to ensure protection from full viral infection. For a listing of locations to obtain the vaccine, visit the state health departments website: http://health.hawaii.gov/docd/vaccines-immunizations/vaccine-locators/
At this time, no reports of Hepatitis A infection have been reported to the Hawaii State Health Department, but the infection is still early in the incubation period. Vigilance in monitoring and reporting are important over the next several weeks.
So, How Does This Happen?
Tropic Fish Hawaii has systems in place to check the safety of the products it distributes. Products are routinely tested for Hepatitis A prior to distribution. This has been an added safety mechanism in response to previous hepatitis A virus contamination in other food products resulting in recalls. Scallops and green onion Hepatitis A virus contamination were some recent recalls. Tropic Fish Hawaii has been proactive in their testing of imported foods. However, in this case, a tragic error occurred. “The test was being performed, and before the results came in, error in communication between the supplier and us, the product was released for sale,” said Tanoue, President of Tropic Fish Hawaii. While the system was in place, the product was distributed before the results were complete. At that point 3000 lbs of ahi tuna used for making poke (a popular Hawaiian dish) had been sent to various retailers.
While 2100 lbs of tainted frozen ahi cubes were pulled from consumption, 900 lbs have not be recovered. Upon receiving notice, retailers immediately took action. Fortunately, Aloha Sushi at 3131 N. Nimitz, ABC Stores on Lewers St., and Crab Shack Kapolei never sold the product. Other retailers such as Times immediately closed their seafood departments in stores who may have received the tainted product to avoid cross-contamination and thoroughly sanitized prior to re-opening.
But How Did the Hepatitis A Virus End Up in the Fish?
While you may be imagining a Hepatitis A virus being carried around by infected fish swimming around in the ocean, thankfully, such a hybrid virus does not exist. While some animal and human viruses do hybridize and can be communicable between humans and animals, this is not the case for this particular viral concern. Hepatitis A contamination in food is often spread from one person to another person by fecal-oral transmission. For food to become contaminated, an infected person comes in contact with the food. This infected person has likely not properly washed their hands or is not utilizing appropriate food sanitation practices.
The source for the ahi cubes in question were imported from Indonesia. After processing, the product was sent to Tropic Fish Hawaii for distribution. In this case, it is suspected that an employee processing the raw fish was infected with Hepatitis A. Employees should always adhere to food sanitation practices and self-report illnesses to avoid such tragic outcomes. However, an infected person may not know they are infected for several weeks though they are quite contagious. In fact, the highest concentration of virus is present in the stool two weeks before the individual presents symptoms. This is why proper food sanitation guidelines are important to enforce.
Can I Get Hepatitis A If I Didn’t Eat the Tuna?
It takes several weeks before an infected person shows symptom of the virus. Even an asymptomatic person can shed the virus and infect others. If you come in contact with someone who has eaten the contaminated food, and they have not properly washed their hands or you share bodily fluids, you may be infected with the virus as well. It is important for friends and family of those who have consumed the tainted fish to also monitor symptoms for 50 days and take extra steps to protect themselves from acquiring the virus.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself?
To protect yourself from acquiring the virus from food, use caution with consuming raw foods, as it is always a health concern. If you are going to consume raw foods, be sure the ingredients come from a reputable source, and proper food sanitation guidelines are followed.
To properly inactivate the virus by cooking, heat foods to 185ºF (85ºC) or higher for at least one minute. Surfaces and utensils must be disinfected with 1:100 dilution of bleach. Keep in mind that even cooked food cannot be assumed safe. Food may become contaminated by a Hepatitis A infected person after food is cooked. Another source of food exposure could also come from contaminated water, so a clean water source for food preparation is important.
To protect yourself from acquiring the virus from another person, use good handwashing and hygiene practices. Avoid drinking after others and teach children to properly wash hands and avoid sharing practices that often spread viruses and illnesses through this common activity.