Anyone who has not been vaccinated for Hepatitis A and has eaten imported yellowfin tuna in the past two weeks — especially if they live in California, Oklahoma, New York or Texas — should consider getting a post-exposure prophylactic shot for the virus.
That recommendation from public health officials with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came today, two weeks after a behind-the-scenes recall was initiated by Hilo Fish Company Inc. of Hilo, HI.
The two federal agencies are “assisting state and local officials in assessing the risk of Hepatitis A virus exposure from contaminated frozen tuna sourced from Sustainable Seafood Company, Vietnam, and Santa Cruz Seafood Inc., Philippines. If unvaccinated consumers have consumed the recalled product within the last two weeks, post-exposure prophylaxis may help prevent Hepatitis A virus infection.”
A CDC spokeswoman said Friday afternoon that no cases of Hepatitis A had been confirmed as linked to the tuna, therefore leaving the FDA as the lead agency on the investigation.
FDA waited two weeks
In a rare move, the FDA posted a list of entities that received the recalled tuna with the investigation announcement. The agency’s standard procedure is to withhold names of retailers, distributors, restaurants and other entities that have received recalled food because of a clause in federal law regarding “confidential corporate information.”
“To protect the health of consumers who may have eaten contaminated tuna and require post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), the FDA has determined that it is necessary to make public the names of these businesses as part of the recall,” according to FDA’s statement.
However, the agency did not make public the recall itself for two weeks, a critical time frame in terms of exposure to the Hepatitis A virus and the opportunity to obtain post-exposure treatment.
An FDA spokeswoman said Friday afternoon the distributor, Hilo Fish Company Inc., was responsible for notifying its customers and they are responsible for notifying anyone who bought the recalled fish from them.
“Hilo Fish Company alerted their customers and distribution partners directly to let them know about the company’s voluntary recall of certain tuna products on May 18,” the FDA spokeswoman said. “The FDA is working with Hilo and other distributors to ensure that the companies remove product from the market.
“It is the responsibility of the Hilo Fish Company to notify their customers about the voluntary recall. It is also the responsibility of any company that received a recall notice from Hilo Fish Company to notify their customers. The establishments identified on the FDA’s website should have received a notice from Hilo Fish Company or their direct supplier. If they have not, they should reach out to their suppliers for more information.”
Distribution records show the implicated frozen yellowfin tuna steaks and cubes were not sold directly to the public in New York, according to FDA.
In California, Oklahoma and Texas the recalled tuna not only went to grocery stores and restaurants, it also went to distributors, including Sysco, which is the largest foodservice supplier in the United States. Sysco’s customers include restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, hotels and other foodservice and hospitality businesses.
Sysco’s director of external communications, Camilla Zuckero, said Friday that the company is “not providing comment” on the situation.
Consumers and others can identify the recalled yellowfin tuna by looking for the following label information:
- 8-ounce frozen yellowfin tuna steaks from Sustainable Seafood Company in individually vacuum packed bags with the production date code of 627152, lot number 166623 and expiration date of 2018-10-01; and
- 15-pound cases of frozen yellowfin tuna cubes from Santa Cruz Seafood, individually vacuum packed, with the date code 705342, lot number 173448 and expiration date of 2019-04-01.
The FDA is collecting additional frozen tuna samples and increasing its screening measures and testing for imported seafood for these companies, according to the agency’s notice.
Advice for consumers
Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled tuna and developed signs of Hepatitis A infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure so the proper diagnostic tests can be performed. Symptoms in adults include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine, and pale stool. People with Hepatitis A may not have symptoms until 15 to 50 days after consuming a contaminated food or drink.
The virus is a contagious liver disease that can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A can be spread when a person ingests the virus from contaminated food or water. The virus can also be easily passed from an infected person to other unvaccinated family members, sexual partners, and close contacts, according to the CDC.
Anyone who consumed the recalled tuna in the past two weeks still has time to seek post-exposure treatment if they have not previously been vaccinated against Hepatitis A.
“If you are unsure if you have been vaccinated against hepatitis A virus, contact your health professional to check your immunization records. If you have been vaccinated, no further action is needed. If you are unable to determine whether you have already been vaccinated, receiving an additional dose of vaccine is not harmful,” according to the FDA notice.
“PEP offers no preventive benefit to persons whose exposure occurred more than two weeks ago. People who have consumed this fish fully cooked are at reduced risk of exposure, but are encouraged to consult with their medical professionals.
Advice for retailers, restaurants, etc.
If any businesses served any recalled product within the past two weeks, they should contact their local health department and wherever possible, notify their customers about possible exposure to Hepatitis A virus and the potential benefit of post-exposure prophylaxis, the FDA advised in its notice.
In the event that retailers and/or other retail locations are found to have handled recalled or other potentially contaminated food in their facilities, FDA advises they should:
- Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators where potentially contaminated products were stored.
- Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to prepare, serve, or store potentially contaminated products.
- Wash hands with hot water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.
Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators who have processed and packaged any potentially contaminated products need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with the potentially contaminated products.
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