DOH reminds of Korean shellfish ban

HONOLULU — The federal Food and Drug Administration last month banned all Korean shellfish products from restaurants, distributors and retailers in the United States, citing sanitation issues that caused such products to be considered unsafe for human consumption. 

On May 1, federal officials removed all Korean certified shippers of molluscan shellfish from the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List, following a comprehensive FDA evaluation that determined that the Korean Shellfish Sanitation Program no longer meets the sanitation controls spelled out under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, according to Lance Wong, Acting Program Manager at the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, Food and Drug Branch.

Banned products include all fresh, frozen and processed — including canned — molluscan shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops) from Korea, purchased before, on, or after May 1.

On June 1, state Shellfish Control Authority Lori Nagatoshi sent a memo reminding all distributors, retailers and food establishments that violating the ban could bring fines of up to $10,000 per day per violation.

Wong said the FDA’s evaluation of the KSSP found “significant” shellfish growing area deficiencies, including ineffective management of land-based pollution sources that can impact shellfish growing areas; inadequate sanitary controls to prevent the discharge of human fecal waste from fish farms and commercial fishing and aquaculture vessels operating in and adjacent to shellfish growing areas; and detection of norovirus in shellfish growing areas analyzed by FDA during the evaluation.

“Because of inadequate sanitation controls, the molluscan shellfish harvested from Korean waters may have been exposed to human fecal waste and have the potential to be contaminated with norovirus,” Wong said.

No one on Kaua‘i or in the rest of the state has reported sickness associated with the norovirus, according to Wong.

Noroviruses, he said, are a group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis. Symptoms associated with the virus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Affected individuals often experience low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. 

“Most people show symptoms within 48 hours of exposure to the virus, Wong said. “The illness typically lasts one to two days.”

Norovirus is usually non life-threatening and generally does not cause long-term effects, according to Wong.

He said no local businesses statewide have complained of the ban. The firms that have received “adulterated products” should work with their distributors, he said.

 

Shellfish harvesting illegal in Hawai‘i

Kaua‘i used to have a Food and Drug Inspector, but that position was eliminated in the 1990s and never replaced, according to Wong. Other islands still have a Food and Drug Inspector, said Wong, adding that O‘ahu has seven inspectors and Maui and Big Island have one each.

However, the lack of an inspector is not the reason Kaua‘i residents cannot harvest local shellfish.

“DOH does not allow the harvesting of molluscan shellfish within the State of Hawai‘i,” said Wong, adding the prohibition includes clams, mussels, oysters and scallops.

But what about ‘opihi, a local delicacy?

“‘Opihi is OK to harvest,” Wong said. “It’s always been OK to harvest ‘opihi, there has not been any restrictions on it. ‘Opihi collection in Hawai‘i is legal. Sales of ‘opihi is legal. ‘Opihi is a limpet and not a shellfish.”

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, a limpet is “a marine gastropod mollusk (especially families Acmaeidae and Patellidae) that has a low conical shell broadly open beneath, browses over rocks or timbers in the littoral area, and clings very tightly when disturbed.”

According to Biology Online website, a limpet is “any one of many species of marine shellfish of the order docoglossa, mostly found adhering to rocks, between tides.”

 

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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