Health & Medicine

Raw tuna in sushi linked to salmonella outbreak in California, 10 other states

In a salmonella outbreak linked to eating raw tuna in sushi, California has the most reported cases – 34 – among consumers sickened in 11 states.

No deaths have been reported, but 11 people were hospitalized among 62 U.S. cases cited as of Monday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said those affected range in age from 83 to a baby less than 1 year old.

The California cases occurred in six southern counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Although 62 cases may seem small, the CDC says the outbreak is likely substantially higher. “Our reporting usually only captures 1 in 30 cases of salmonella. ... It could really be above a thousand people across the country,” said Dr. Matthew Wise, a CDC outbreak-response team leader in Atlanta. “This is still a fairly large number of ill people.”

This week, the CDC also announced two recalls of frozen yellowfin tuna imported from Indonesia by the Osamu Corp., based in the Southern California city of Gardena. The frozen tuna was sold between May 9, 2014, and July 9 of this year to U.S. sushi restaurants as well as to grocery stores, which packaged takeout sushi rolls for consumers, according to the CDC.

“One of our concerns always from a shelf-safe or frozen product is that there may be more cases,” Wise said. “We really want to notify the retailers and restaurants and make sure the product is pulled (out of their freezer). … The average consumer when they order a sushi roll at restaurants or from a grocery store doesn’t know where the seafood came from.”

Fuechi Wang, manager of the Wrap N’ Roll sushi burrito outlet in midtown Sacramento, said he hadn’t heard of the outbreak nor does he order fish from Osamu. Dealing with raw fish requires careful attention, he said. “We always make sure our fish is properly stored and keep our temperatures at least 39 degrees or lower.”

The ongoing investigation “is a good reminder to Californians that there are sometimes risks when eating raw or undercooked meats, fish or poultry,” said Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health, in a statement. “This is particularly true for young children, the elderly, or people with compromised immune systems who may be at an increased risk of severe illness.”

The CDC said the type of salmonella involved causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after exposure. Most people recover within several days, but some cases require hospitalization.

Regardless of an outbreak, certain groups of higher-risk people should never eat any raw fish or shellfish, according to the CDC. Those include children younger than 5 years; pregnant women; adults older than 65; and those with weakened immune systems.

Consumers with salmonella-like symptoms should consult their health care provider. For more on this outbreak and other food safety alerts, go to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website, or call 888-SAFEFOOD on weekdays.