Stores, including Times, received frozen ahi that tested positive for hepatitis A

Photo of the embargoed product courtesy Department of Health

The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) has been notified of imported frozen raw tuna or ahi cubes distributed by Tropic Fish Hawaii, LLC on Oahu that tested positive for hepatitis A.

The product, imported from Indonesia, was used to prepare poke sold between April 27 and May 1 by food establishments on Oahu.

The Department of Health says Tropic Fish Hawaii discovered 200 tainted 15-pound cases of frozen ahi cubes; 140 of those cases were recovered and never got sold.

The imported frozen fish was delivered to:

  • Times Supermarkets and Shima’s (see below for exact stores and dates)
  • GP Hawaiian Food Catering
  • Crab Shack Kapolei (also known as Maile Sunset Bar & Grill in Kapolei)
  • Aloha Sushi at 3131 N. Nimitz Highway**
  • ABC Store at 205 Lewers Street

**Starred location(s) indicate the establishment received, but did not sell any of the tainted product, as confirmed Department of Health.

“Times Supermarket and Tropic Fish notified the department as soon as they learned of the test results on the imported fish,” said Peter Oshiro, chief of the DOH Food Safety Program. “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.”

After being notified, Times immediately closed the seafood department of every store that may have received product that tested positive for hep-A to prevent any possibility of cross-contamination and notified the Department of Health. The Department of Health has already cleared the seafood departments, which have been fully cleaned and sanitized, to reopen.

The company has narrowed down when and where the product in question was available for sale:

Store Product available for sale
Kailua May 1
Kaneohe April 29, 30, May 1
Waipahu April 29, 30, May 1
Aiea April 29, 30, May 1
Liliha April 30, May 1
Royal Kunia April 30, May 1
Mililani May 1
Shima’s (Waimanalo) April 29, 30, May 1

Customers who bring back a receipt will receive a full refund for their purchase.

Seafood imports and inspections

Always Investigating has been keeping tabs on food safety flaws with imported seafood since the hepatitis A outbreak last year. We checked Tuesday and found tainted Indonesian seafood imports were busted by U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors 57 times already this year.

“Import refusal” data from the federal agency reveals hundreds of catches like this every year, with unsafe tuna accounting for the vast majority of rejected shipments. But only about two percent of all foreign seafood is inspected by the FDA before it hits stores and restaurants. Of that two percent, just a fraction gets turns away.

We spoke with Crab Shack Kapolei and were told none of the tainted product made it to customers. Aloha Sushi said the same.

ABC Stores originally said its Lewers Street location pulled all of the tainted fish and “none of the product was sold to customers or consumed by the kitchen staff.”

However, the company issued an update that said Tropic Fish mistakenly informed ABC Stores on the quantity of possible tainted ahi that was delivered to the Lewers Street store. Therefore, it is probable that the ahi poke prepared and sold on Sunday, April 30, may have been tainted.

ABC Stores says its Lewers Street kitchen was sanitized and inspected by the Department of Health and cleared for normal operation.

Customers are advised to take proper health precautions and may return to the store for a refund. Call ABC Stores at (808) 591-2550 if there are any questions or concerns.

Detection and ‘oversight’

Chris Borden, senior director of marketing and merchandising at Times Supermarkets, says Times requires its seafood suppliers to conduct tests on its products.

‘We have multiple distributors that actually ship frozen ahi cubes into us. This supplier did his test, but somehow, again I can’t speak for the supplier himself, but they sent product physically out to our stores prior to getting the results. Once they got the results is when we got notified,” Borden said.

“Our normal procedure is to receive the test results prior to distribution, but unfortunately that did not happen with this particular shipment,” said Shawn Tanoue, president of Tropic Fish Hawaii. A company spokesman called it an oversight.

“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,” Tanoue said.

Borden noted that Times has also already changed its policy to require cleared test results before shipments can be accepted at stores.

“We put too much faith (in the supplier) and we’re going to take a proactive step to ensure that (it doesn’t happen again),” Borden said. “We did take a proactive test when the original outbreak occurred … now we need to make further attempts to make sure to protect safety of the public.”

Photo: Department of Health

What affected customers need to know

Customers who purchased and consumed the product and are not vaccinated for hepatitis A are advised to consult with their doctor about vaccination.

“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,” said Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist. “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.”

Persons who consumed poke from the affected food establishments between April 28 and May 1 may have been exposed to hepatitis A and are advised to:

  1. Contact their healthcare provider about receiving hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin (IG), which may provide some protection against the disease if administered within two weeks after exposure.
  2. Monitor their health for symptoms of hepatitis A infection up to 50 days after exposure.
  3. Wash hands with soap and warm water frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing food.
  4. Stay at home and contact their healthcare provider immediately if symptoms of hepatitis A infection develop.

Symptoms of hepatitis A infection usually appear 2–6 weeks after exposure and include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, diarrhea, and yellow skin and eyes. Individuals, including food service employees, exhibiting symptoms of hepatitis A should stay home and contact their healthcare provider.

Testing of individuals who do not have symptoms of hepatitis A is not recommended, with the exception of food handlers who have been exposed to the disease, as required by Hawaii State law. Hepatitis A vaccine or IG, if indicated, should be administered after results of the testing are received.

DOH is working with the distributor and visiting all affected facilities to ensure proper sanitation and decontamination procedures are taken. The product is embargoed by the state until further testing is determined and coordination with federal authorities is completed.

While vaccination provides the best protection, frequent handwashing with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Appropriately cooking foods can also help to prevent infection.

Hawaii’s last hepatitis A scare

The latest hepatitis A outbreak in the state lasted nearly half a year in 2016. Nearly 300 people got sick and 74 had to be hospitalized. The source of the outbreak was traced to tainted scallops served at Genki Sushi. Sea Port imported the tainted product from the Philippines. The scallops were distributed by Koha Foods.

Health officials say this scenario is different from last year’s outbreak, because the source of the tainted fish was discovered quickly through routine testing by a local distributor.

Click here for more information about hepatitis A.

Click here for a statewide list of vaccinating pharmacies or call the Aloha United Way information and referral line at 2-1-1.

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