The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) Sanitation Branch has ordered Marine Agrifuture, also known as Olakai Hawaii, to immediately cease and desist selling or distributing their products, Kahuku Ogo, Robusta Ogo, and Sea Asparagus.
The farm is located in Kahuku on Oahu.
Reports of Salmonella infections on Oahu were linked to consumption of ogo (or limu) and subsequently led to the investigation of Marine Agriculture LLC on Nov. 2 and 7.
Fourteen cases were confirmed among children and adults, four of which required hospitalization.
During the investigation, testing was conducted on environmental, processing area, and ogo samples.
The first sample test initially shut down distribution of the farm’s limu products only.
However, the second round of testing identified Salmonella bacteria in the packing and processing tanks and in the farm environment.
“It was found in his source water, which is the water that supplies all his rinse tanks and final product tanks. We felt it was prudent for us to stop on all his products coming out of his farm, because it doesn’t seem that he can control salmonella in his processing areas,” explained Peter Oshiro, chief of the DOH Sanitation Branch. “Distributors and retailers have been notified to remove the affected products from sale or distribution immediately.”
Marine Agrifuture is a major distributor of ogo and sea asparagus in Hawaii and its products may have been shipped to all islands as well as the mainland (California and Washington state). The department is still confirming all locations and states the product may have been shipped to. Oshiro says as of October, the farm produced 11,000 pounds of limu alone each month.
Foodland and Times Supermarkets have already confirmed the removal of limu poke from its stores.
According to its website, Olakai distributes sea asparagus to Halekulani, Fete, Chef Mavro, Roy’s Restaurants, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, Senia, and Alan Wong’s. It also sells product at farmers markets, Costco in Waipio and Kapolei, and Whole Foods Market.
Further investigation is needed to determine exactly how Salmonella is contaminating the brackish well water, a mix of fresh and salt water.
“We looked at his facilities and there are some things that are lacking so we indicated in writing as far as an inspection report about things he can do to help mitigate the problem,” Oshiro said. “If you’re producing in a facility or an environment that has the ability to contaminate the product, obviously we are not going to allow the product to be kept.”
Marine Agrifuture will be allowed to resume their sale of Kahuku Ogo, Robusta Ogo, and Sea Asparagus once the farm demonstrates to DOH that the risk of contamination from pathogenic bacteria has been mitigated at the source and that sanitation practices have been implemented to preclude contamination during the processing of the food product.
DOH will continue to work with the farm and will require retesting of areas and products to assure food safety.
While health officials say all of the cases were traced back to Olakai, they’re still looking into how the limu was obtained and aren’t ruling out the possibility of other potential sources.
“The message is if they (the public) have purchased any limu products or still have it, absolutely get rid of it at this point, because we are not sure how extensive the contamination is,” Oshiro said.