A seaweed growing operation in Hawaii is under orders to stop distributing products after a Salmonella outbreak investigation uncovered the pathogen in packing and processing tanks at the farm.

The cease and desist order from the Hawaii Department of Health’s sanitation branch was published two days after the health department announced the outbreak had been linked to seaweed from an Oahu farm.

Olkai seaweed and logoDepartment officials did not name the farm Tuesday, but when test results came in positive, the state revealed the farm to be Marine Agrifuture LLC, which does business Olakai Hawaii. The farm is in Kahuku on Oahu.

“Distributors and retailers have been notified to remove the affected products from sale or distribution immediately,” said sanitation branch chief Peter Oshiro in a news release.

“We advise the public to discard any suspect product they may have.”

Products included in the cease and desist order are: Kahuku Ogo, Robusta Ogo, and Sea Asparagus.

The company had not posted a recall notice on its website or with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as of 11 p.m. EST Friday.

The Hawaii health department did not indicate what retailers had received Olakai products. It also reported distribution details were incomplete.

“Marine Agrifuture is a major distributor of ogo and sea asparagus in Hawaii and its products may have been shipped to all islands as well as the mainland, (including) California and Washington state. The department is still confirming all locations and states the product may have been shipped to,” according to the health department release.

The Marine Agrifuture/Olakai Hawaii website lists retailers that carry its products. The list as of Friday was:

  • Kailua Town Farmers Market;
  • Whole Foods Market;
  • Waipio Costco;
  • Kokua Market;
  • Ala Moana Farmer’s Market;
  • Windard Mall Farmers Market;
  • Kailua Farmer’s Market;
  • Hawaii Kai Costco; and
  • Hawaii Kai Farmer’s Market.

As of Tuesday, 14 people had been confirmed with Salmonella infections, with four of them having symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization. The sick people include adults and children who developed diarrheal illnesses from mid- to late October.

Preliminary investigations identified consumption of raw fish, specifically poke that contained limo — seaweed — as a common factor among the sick people.

Anyone who has eaten poke containing limo and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention and alert their doctor to the possible Salmonella exposure. Symptoms typically begin within 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria, according to the Hawaii health department.

State officials inspected the farm on Nov. 2 and 7, according to the Thursday news release.

“During the investigation, testing was conducted on environmental, processing area, and ogo samples. Laboratory tests identified Salmonella bacteria in the packing and processing tanks and in the farm environment,” the health department reported.

“Marine Agrifuture will be allowed to resume their sale of Kahuku Ogo, Robusta Ogo, and Sea Asparagus once the farm demonstrates to DOH that the risk of contamination from pathogenic bacteria has been mitigated at the source and that sanitation practices have been implemented to preclude contamination during the processing of the food product. DOH will continue to work with the farm and will require retesting of areas and products to assure food safety.”

The company, founded in 2006 by scientist Wenhao Sun, uses a patented salt-water cultivation system, according to its website. It “systematically cultures, develops, and enhances seed-stock for production and provides Sea Asparagus, ogo, and other marine-grown products for local and national distribution.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)