State embargoes suspect scallops
  • Thursday, May 23, 2019
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Hawaii News | Top News

State embargoes suspect scallops

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / STAR-ADVERTISER

    The state Health Department found that 70 percent of the hepatitis A victims it interviewed had eaten at Genki Sushi in the past seven weeks, whereas only 23 percent of respondents to an online survey of the general public had dined there in the same period. State Sanitation Branch Chief Peter Oshiro, left, state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park, state Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler and Mary Hansen, chief administrative officer for Genki Sushi USA, appeared at a news conference Tuesday.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Employees scrubbed the 11 Genki Sushi restaurants ordered closed in connection with the state’s hepatitis A outbreak, including this one in Aiea, nine others on Oahu and Genki’s lone outlet on Kauai. Genki Sushi restaurants on Maui and Hawaii island were not affected.

Scallops suspected of triggering a major hepatitis A outbreak in Hawaii came from the Philippines and were served at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai but not other islands, state health officials said Tuesday.

The state slapped an embargo on the suspect scallops and their distributors and shut down Genki Sushi’s 10 restaurants on Oahu and single outlet on Kauai late Monday. Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler said the department acted immediately after concluding the scallops were the likely source of the outbreak, the worst in the state in two decades.

The hepatitis A virus, a contagious liver disease, has sickened at least 168 people at last count, including 46 who had to be hospitalized. More cases are expected because the disease has a long incubation period. It typically spreads through contaminated food.

The imported frozen scallops, chopped and served raw with mayonnaise atop a rice ball wrapped with dried seaweed, were among sushi items offered on conveyor belts to customers. The Health Department identified the product as Sea Port Bay Scallops (Wild Harvest, Raw Frozen), with the notation “Product of the Philippines.”

State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park advised anyone who has eaten at Genki Sushi on Oahu or Kauai 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 told them to watch for symptoms of the disease for up to 50 days.

Dane Nakamura, chief operating officer of Koha Oriental Foods, said his company distributed the scallops only to Genki Sushi on Oahu and Kauai. The company no longer has any of the product, he said. Federal investigators tested the scallops last week, but he hasn’t received results.

“We understand what the Health Department is doing in trying to get ahead of this,” Nakamura said. “We haven’t got anything back from the FDA. It’s not a product recall because it’s not a positive identification.”

The Health Department successfully blocked the shipment of the scallops from another distributor, True World Food on Oahu, so none of the product went to Genki Sushi restaurants on Maui or Hawaii island. All of those scallops are being destroyed.

A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived Aug. 7 to help with the investigation. Asked whether federal assistance would have helped solve the mystery sooner, Park said the extra expertise arrived just in time.

“Had the CDC team been here earlier, then perhaps we would have made this association sooner, but I actually don’t think so,” Park said. “I think we were headed that way, and the point the CDC team came was actually the critical point … where there were just too many tasks to assign and not enough staff to complete them.”

She credited the public with helping identify the source. A survey posted online by the Health Department last week found that local residents were far less likely to have dined at Genki Sushi than those who contracted hepatitis A.

“I can’t thank the public enough for their exuberant response,” Park said Tuesday. “I think we received over 5,300 responses. It was just amazing. I think it speaks to our community wanting to come together and protect our public’s health.”

The Health Department found that 70 percent of the hepatitis A victims it interviewed had eaten at Genki Sushi in the past seven weeks, while the online survey of the general public found 23 percent of respondents had eaten there.

“With no other restaurant or food chain or grocery store have we found such an association,” Park said.

The news came as a surprise to Genki Sushi officials. None of the chain’s employees has contracted the disease, said Mary Hansen, chief administrative officer of Genki Sushi USA Inc.

“Genki Sushi was shocked when we received the order to immediately close our restaurants on Oahu and Kauai,” Hansen said, but it complied right away. “Genki Sushi cares about the public and our customers’ health and safety. We will continue to work with the Department of Health to ensure that we are in compliance so that we can open our restaurants as soon as possible.”

Those 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 have been working closely with Genki throughout this investigation,” he said, adding that the company readily shared invoices, distribution records and other documents. “They have been a very good partner. We thank them for helping us crack this case.”

Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food or drink, or by close personal contact with a carrier. Its symptoms, which can appear weeks after exposure, include fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine, joint pain and jaundice — a yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Only a few of the 168 victims contracted the disease from another person, Park said. All the victims so far are adults. The first began showing symptoms June 12, and could have been exposed as far back as mid-April, and the most recent onset of illness was Aug. 1.

The vast majority of cases have been on Oahu. Eight of the victims lived on the neighbor islands, and one visitor has returned to the mainland.

One person who contracted hepatitis A was already terminally ill and in hospice care, and later died. It isn’t clear whether the death was due to hepatitis or the underlying health problem, but it is likely the latter, said Jonathan Hilts, a public health educator.

Investigators are still trying to figure out how individuals who fell ill but don’t recall eating at Genki Sushi may have contracted the disease. The department previously identified several other restaurants, each with a single employee who had hepatitis A, but so far none of them passed it on.

“At this time we have not identified any cases related to those food workers, which is good news,” Park said. “But it doesn’t mean we are completely out of the woods, because hepatitis A has an incredibly long incubation period.”

“We are at a milestone here,” she added. “This is not the finish line.”


ON THE NET:

>> For more information on the outbreak and how to prevent its spread, visit health.hawaii.gov.


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  • Where does that leave the status of the other food/serving establishments who had workers who tested positive for Hepatitis A? Did these workers contract the disease from eating the tainted scallops from Genki or from someone else who ate the scallops. Are the general public who patronized the previous identified establishments still considered exposed because of the infected workers in those places? It seems that anyone close to the suspected cause should get tested for Hep A in addition rather than just getting the vaccine. Right now there could still be people unknowingly already infected without symptoms yet who may be exposing or even infecting others.

    • IIRC the vaccine costs about $200 so free vacinations probably should only be given to those who have been exposed. If you ate there but did not eat the raw scallops, then you should pay for your own vacination.

        • Last week, a friend’s husband who is a server in a Waikiki hotel called Kaiser and asked about getting the shot. They told him no unless it was by doctor’s orders. It would cost him $130. I guess after people started complaining, Kaiser now gives it out for free. And, the husband went today to get the shot, WITHOUT doctor’s order. How you figgah?

      • If you got the Hep A infection there is no sense getting the vaccine. When you recover you have built up the antibodies to fight it off. So no waste your money. You’ve become immune. Trouble is doctors don’t tell you that. Like the Catholic Church your ignorance is a gold mine. Everybody should ask why in all these years of doctor’s visits no one ever told them to get both the Hep A and B shots just for insurance? Same for Rabies? Because they make more money treating the disease than preventing it. You might be better off visiting a veterinarian.

  • Hand the medical bills to Genki Sushi and tell them to sue the food suppliers & food manufacturers.

    In the meantime, your business is going on a financial diet.

  • Who is responsible to check on how foreign imported foods are grown and processed? How does the American public know if it’s safe to consume like these scallops?

    • That’s why almost all restaurants that serve raw seafood have warnings that it’s not inherently safe to consume raw seafood, especially shellfish like scallops and oysters. Less likely to get sick from big fish like ahi served raw.

    • There probably are already safeguards in place to prevent the import of toxic products. Not enough enforcers not paid enough. Look at the labels and be suspicious of its origins. Cook everything and stop eating raw sashimi anywhere in the world. All restaurants should have an extra placard, “No Filipino Food Served in this Establishment”.

  • Wasn’t it P T Barnum who said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity, as long as they spell your name right”. ??? Through no fault of their own, Genki Sushi has gotten millions and millions of dollars worth of publicity, and is now probably the safest place in Hawaii to eat.

  • Good detective work! This should be a warning to people about eating raw seafood from badly polluted waters (as in the Phillipines, or Brazil), especially waters that contain untreated sewage.

    • How does the consumer know the origin of the seafood? People always were willing to take a chance on raw seafood with only the perceived risk of a mild allergic reaction or a temporary sore stomach. Now we have the risk of Hepatitis A which is a much more severe disease. The yellow eyes symptom is very scary.

  • Is it just me? I’m confused…I don’t see anywhere in the article that the scallops were tested and found to contain feces etc…. it is just suspected at this point. Even Koha Foods said they are still waiting for the results to come back and that’s why there is no recall on the product yet. I hope the DOH and CDC got it right, otherwise, a company just lost a lot of money on a guess. No Genki employees have gotten sick either.

    • Yes. It’s amazing that the employees have not eaten the scallops or if they ate the scallops, that they did not get sick.

      Perhaps only a fraction of the scallops from a particular location are contaminated.

    • You’re right, there’s nothing in the article to say that the scallops have been tested and proven carrying the virus; and they are destroying the evidence. I hope they are correct in their assumption that it was from those scallops. The article mentioned that no children has come down with the illness and we know this virus is transmitted via fecal-oral route….do you guys ever put food on those children seats on those grocery carts??? Hmmmm, something to think about.

    • Like you will have to reassess my eating habits and avoid raw foods. Being a senior, our immune system is ma ku le and can’t fight the bugs in raw foods. Had many raw oysters in the Maryland area in the late ’80s where at “happy hour” it was 50 cents each.

  • Did all of these people all eat at Genki? They must have made alot of money. I can’t believe it but we will see. So now we should not have anymore break outs.

  • Some possible reasons why no Genki Sushi employees were affected by Hepatitis A virus: 1) already vaccinated, 2) no free or discounted meal, 3) did not eat scallops, 4) prepared their own meal without handling contaminated scallops, 5) they don’t like or eat the food, 6) they know something we don’t know.

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