Spicy Tuna Salmonella Infections: Nakaochi Recalls Tuna Scrape

California tuna products manufacturer, Moon Marine USA Corp., voluntarily recalls “Nakaochi Scrape” — the frozen raw yellowfin tuna product linked to the ongoing multistate outbreak of Salmonella Bareilly infections.

A yellowfin tuna product used to make the Japanese dishes sushi and sashimi sold at restaurants and grocery stores across the United States has been linked to an ongoing outbreak of salmonella that has so far caused more than 100 people in 20 states and the District of Columbia to fall ill, the federal government warns.

On April 13, the Food and Drug Administration said that 116 illnesses have been reported so far from 19 states, including 12 people who have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Many of the Americans who became ill reported eating raw tuna in sushi as “spicy tuna.”

“We have traced the illness back to certain lots of tuna scrape from Moon Marine,” the FDA’s Curtis Allen tells The Chicago Tribune. “There could still be some out there, but we hope it won’t be out there for long.”

The California-based Moon Marine USA Corp. (MMI) of Cupertino, California is voluntarily recalling 58,828 pounds of frozen raw yellowfin tuna labeled as Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA when it was sold to grocery stores and restaurants. The tuna is scraped off the fish bones and looks like a ground product. While it isn’t sold directly to individual consumers, it is often used by restaurants and grocery stores to make sushi, sashimi, ceviche and similar dishes.

The problem is that, while MMI clearly stamped its name and Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA on boxes of the product sold to distributors, the boxes contain several vacuum-wrapped packages with no further labeling. This means that the boxes may have been broken into smaller lots for further sale — and end retailers or restaurants may not be able to identify that their tuna comes from the implicated lots.

As the product may not be accompanied by lot numbers or labeling information, the FDA is thus advising product sellers — including distributors and restaurants — to consult with their suppliers to determine whether the Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA in their possession originated from Moon Marine USA Corporation (also known as MMI).

But in a webpage on its site, the FDA assures the public that it is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local partners to investigate the ongoing outbreak. It also says it is coordinating closely with MMI to identify the implicated lots and help take it off shelves. The CDC has also made a similar assurance on its website.

Surprisingly, while the company implicated in the food poisoning outbreak is based in the West Coast, all the cases so far reported occurred in states on the east and central of the country, spreading from the northeast to the southeast, to the Midwest and to as far southwest as Texas. The states that have reported outbreaks are: Alabama (2 cases), Arkansas (1), Connecticut (5), District of Columbia (2), Florida (1), Georgia (5), Illinois (10), Louisiana (2), Maryland (11), Massachusetts (8), Mississippi (1), Missouri (2), New Jersey (7), New York (24), North Carolina (2), Pennsylvania (5), Rhode Island (5), South Carolina (3), Texas (3), Virginia (5), and Wisconsin (12).

Salmonella — actually the name of a group of bacteria — is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the U.S. While it can cause people to fall ill for four to seven, in most cases, people get better without treatment. But in older adults, infants, and persons with chronic diseases, Salmonella can cause more serious illness. Typically, salmonella is killed by cooking and pasteurization — which is why most foods are safe.