Frozen Tuna Destined for Poke Restaurants Tests Positive for Hepatitis A

Stay away from this garbage tuna.

Eugene Flores on Flickr

The Hilo Fish Company, a wholesaler based in Hawaii, issued a recall on some of its tuna after certain batches tested positive for hepatitis A. This is unusual. Hepatitis A is not nearly as common as bacterial contaminations like Listeria and salmonella. To be honest, we see more bizarre recalls for, like, metal objects in chicken nuggets or golf ball chunks in hash browns than we do for hepatitis A.

But Hawaii has recently had some issues; a string of hepatitis A outbreaks caused the Hawaii Department of Health to seek new ways to fight the virus, which is typically passed through water or food contaminated with fecal matter. It’s especially common in farmed seafood, where lousy conditions can create large-scale petri dishes. If contracted, hepatitis A can cause serious problems: vomiting, jaundice, fever, and, in rare cases, liver failure. There are vaccines for it, but only about 30 percent of kids get them, according to a study.

The batches of recalled tuna came from two sources: Sustainable Seafood Company and Santa Cruz Seafood Inc. These are both strikingly misleading names. Sustainable Seafood Company is a farmed seafood operation in Vietnam, and it’s been accredited by precisely zero sustainability organizations. Santa Cruz Seafood Inc is not based in the lovely surf-friendly California college town of Santa Cruz, but instead is located in General Santos City, in the Philippines.

The FDA took the somewhat unusual step of listing the specific retailers that sold the contaminated fish. Those retailers, in California, Texas, and Oklahoma, include restaurants, hotels, and poke shops. (The fish was sold in small frozen cubes, making it ideal for poke.)

As always, this episode should serve as a reminder to always check where your food comes from. Sustainably farmed or line-caught tuna has a much lower risk of contamination, compared with low-cost, unmonitored farms like those from Sustainable Seafood Company and Santa Cruz Seafood Inc. So be careful! And responsible.

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