The frozen scallops suspected of causing the hepatitis A outbreak in Hawaii originated in the Philippines and were distributed by Koha Oriental Foods on Oahu and Kauai, the state Health Department announced this afternoon.
The department identified the product as Sea Port Bay Scallops (Wild Harvest, Raw Frozen), which carry the notation “Product of the Philippines” on the box.
The scallops were served raw at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai. Those restaurants were shut down Monday evening after authorities determined the likely cause of the outbreak, which has sickened 168 people, including 46 who had to be hospitalized.
The Health Department confirmed this afternoon that it was able to embargo the frozen scallops before they were sent out from the Oahu warehouse of another distributor, True World Food, and none of that product went to Genki Sushi restaurants on Maui or Hawaii island.
“It looks like the probable cause of this outbreak is imported frozen scallops that were served raw at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai,” Pressler said today. “As soon as we determined that was the probable cause we notified Genki Sushi and asked them to close their Oahu and Kauai restaurants immediately. We also embargoed the frozen scallop product so that it wouldn’t be further distributed throughout the state.”
State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park advised anyone who has eaten at Genki Sushi recently, especially if they had scallops, to contact their health care provider about getting the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin, which can prevent the disease if given within two weeks of exposure. She also advised them to watch for symptoms of the disease for up to 50 days.
Genki Sushi, like other restaurants, has been cooperating with the Health Department as authorities tried to trace possible food or drink items that could have triggered the outbreak. But the order to shut down late Monday came as a surprise.
“Genki Sushi was shocked when we received the order to immediately close our restaurants on Oahu and Kauai,” said Mary Hansen, chief administrative officer of Genki Sushi USA Inc. “Genki Sushi cares about the public and our customers health and safety. We immediately complied with the order late Monday afternoon.”
“We will continue to work with the Department of Health to ensure that we are compliant so that we can open our restaurants as soon as possible,” Hansen said. “We want to thank the public and our customers for their continued support.”
The company has 10 restaurants on Oahu and one on Kauai. The restaurants are being sanitized from top to bottom, all food supplies are being destroyed and single-use items such as napkins and cups are being thrown away under oversight of the Health Department, according to Peter Oshiro, Sanitation Branch Chief.
“Genki Sushi in Hawaii has a history of good compliance with food safety regulations which includes good employee hygiene,” Oshiro said. “We will continue to work with Genki Sushi Restaurants to ensure their safe operation after the investigation is completed.”
Health officials said today that they have been in contact with the Hawaii office of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates imported food, to investigate the product origin.
Hepatitis A is a liver disease spread through contaminated food or drink, or by close personal contact with a carrier. The symptoms, which can appear weeks after exposure, include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, a low-grade fever, dark urine, joint pain and jaundice — a yellowing of the skin and eyes.
All the cases identified in the outbreak so far are adults. The first began showing symptoms on June 12, and could have been exposed as far back as mid-April, since the disease has a long incubation period. The most recent onset of illness was Aug. 1.
The vast majority of cases have been on Oahu. Eight individuals who came down with the disease live on the islands of Hawaii, Kauai and Maui, while one visitor has returned to the mainland.
Brant Mauk, 31, of Pearl City was hospitalized in July after contracting hepatitis A. Prior to his illness, Mauk frequented Genki Sushi, where he usually ordered scallops.
“I am happy that the source was found so that we can stop the spread of hepatitis A and implement new procedures to prevent this type of outbreak (from) happening again,” Mauk said Monday night.
A team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who arrived in Honolulu on Aug. 7, has been helping with the investigation. State health officials have also been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify problems with food products elsewhere and to examine distributors and food establishments locally that might have received the suspected products.
A list of vaccination locations in Hawaii is at www.health.hawaii.gov.