Salmonella Prompts Choyce Products Ahi Tuna Recall in Hawaii

A recall of <"">Salmonella tainted ahi tuna has been issued in Hawaii.  A U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation into the source of a salmonella outbreak on Oahu has led to the discovery of contaminated yellowfin tuna—ahi—from at least one distributor:  Choyce Products, one of about 40 seafood distributors on Oahu.  Choyce announced yesterday that it voluntarily recalled 11,000 pounds of previously frozen yellowfin tuna that tested positive for salmonella.  “Our main concern is safety,” said Edmund Choy, owner of Choyce Products, in a news release.  “We immediately issued a voluntary recall on that shipment and confirmed that our customers do not have any ahi from that parcel in our inventory.”

About 5,000 pounds of the contaminated ahi had been sold to some five businesses.  It remains unclear how much of that was recovered or if any had already been sold to consumers, a spokeswoman for the company said.

The state Department of Health has been investigating an outbreak of a rare strain of salmonella, Paratyphi B, confirmed in 33 cases since October but seen in only three cases last month and believes the illnesses are linked to previously frozen ahi imported to Hawaii and eaten raw.  It has not yet been confirmed if the salmonella strain found at Choyce’s is the Paratyphi B strain.

Salmonella, which can be killed by cooking, is a bacterium that can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within hours.  Most people recover without treatment.  Those ill with Paratyphi B salmonella suffer from diarrhea, fevers, and chills and most infections resolve on their own without need for antibiotics.

While not necessarily more dangerous, the “cluster” outbreak of Paratyphi B caught the attention of state officials because it of its rarity; Paratyphi B is usually found in about five to ten cases yearly.  Salmonella cases, which number about 300 a year in Hawaii, are usually unrelated and generate from a variety of strains; however, a cluster outbreak presents the chance to prevent more cases if the source is located, said Janice Okubo, Health Department spokeswoman.  FDA officials were visiting local distributors to find the source of the Paratyphi B outbreak when it found the contamination at Choyce’s on Tuesday, the company’s spokeswoman said.  Choyce, a wholesaler that sells to restaurants and retail outlets on Oahu, will destroy the contaminated ahi according to FDA standards.

In late January, raw ahi was at the center of a mercury issue in which sushi tuna in a variety of locations registered above acceptable levels of mercury.  Following that, state health investigators in Oahu identified the relatively rare type of salmonella poisoning they linked to similar cases on the mainland through DNA fingerprinting of the bacteria.  The illnesses are believed due to raw ahi imported and distributed to Hawaii and other places, said Dr. Paul Effler, state epidemiologist.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was conducting what is called a “traceback investigation” to determine if there is a common source for the contamination.  In Hawaii, people became ill after eating raw ahi—mostly in poke but also sashimi—and it appears as if a sushi restaurant was involved in some mainland cases.

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