Salmonella Poisoning from Recalled Sushi Likely Sickened Thousands

A food poisoning outbreak linked to recalled sushi, which contains contaminated yellow fin tuna, has resulted in more than 300 confirmed cases of salmonella infection and likely caused thousands of additional people to experience illnesses that were never reported. 

In an update issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 17, federal health officials indicate that the multistate outbreak has resulted in 304 confirmed cases of Salmonella Bareilly and another 12 cases of Salmonella Nchanga, which have caused at least 37 people to be hospitalized.

The illnesses are all linked to raw scraped ground yellow fin tuna, known as Nakochi Scape, which was sold by Moon Marine. The FDA announced the ground tuna recall on April 13, impacting more than 58,000 pounds of the meat commonly used in sushi products.

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It is widely acknowledged that only a small fraction of all food poisoning incidents are ever actually reported to health officials, with most confirmed cases only accounting for between 1% and 10% of all illnesses experienced. Therefore, it is likely that thousands, if not tens of thousands of people, throughout the United States have experienced food poisoning from the recalled sushi products.

The fish was sold to customers and to restaurants and grocery stores, where it was used to make sushi, sashimi, ceviche and similar dishes. While the original packages of the ground tuna indicate the manufacturer, Moon Marine USA (MMI), and Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA on boxes sold to distributors, the tuna was often broken down into smaller packaging by grocers and other sellers. Therefore, identifying all of the recalled sushi tuna has been difficult.

The CDC has confirmed illnesses in 26 states and the District of Columbia. Laboratory testing in several states has detected salmonella in 53 of 55 samples taken from packages of Nakaochi Scrape; a 96% contamination rate.

An FDA inspection report (pdf) on the company’s India manufacturing plant found numerous deficiencies.

“Tanks used for storage of process waters have apparent visible debris, filth, and microbial contamination,” inspectors noted in their report. “Apparent bird feces were observed on the ice manufacturing equipment at Moon Fisher; insects and filth were observed in and on the equipment.”

They also reported that sand and carbon filters used on the water was not filtered, nor were ventilation tanks. There was no laboratory analysis showing that the water used to make ice was potable and the ice manufacturing equipment was rusty and lacked sanitary controls. The tuna processed at the facility, often eaten raw in sushi, was in direct contact with that water and ice.

Salmonella infection causes a type of food poisoning known as Salmonellosis, which can produce symptoms within 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria in food.  Symptoms could include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or fever.

While most healthy individuals do not require treatment and the illness typically resolves in 4 to 7 days, young children, elderly individuals and those with weak immune systems are more susceptible to a severe form of the food poisoning, which could require hospitalization and be potentially life-threatening.


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