Locally made spam musubi may have been culprit in cases of food poisoning

Senate calls for DOH investigation

Just over 34 people who were “highly suspected" of having food poisoning were treated last week at the LBJ Medical Center and later released, according to the Department of Health, which collected the data from the hospital with a report to be submitted to the Senate soon.
Yesterday, DOH issued a statement, saying that it had received reports of “gastrointestinal illnesses related to consumption of spam musubi on island."
Last Wednesday, Sen. Mauga T. Asuega, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Health wrote to DOH director Motusa Tuileama Nua about an incident of food poisoning that was reported to the committee.
“According to the report, some eight residents required medical attention at the hospital on Apr. 1 after consuming sushi purchased from a local vendor," he said, and noted that the committee and other Senators believe this to be "a matter of serious health concern.”
He said this unfortunate incident would be classified as a reportable disease or condition or a public health nuisance under provisions of the American Samoa Public Health Act.
“...but regardless, it seems to call for an investigation by the Department and the committee requests that it be kept informed of the status and results of any such investigation,” said Mauga.
He also asked DOH to provide all policies and procedures in place for the department regarding reportable diseases, public health nuisances, and/or other relevant procedures pertaining to the sale of expired or contaminated food.
“We are particularly interested in what preventive and enforcement measures are in place to protect our residents from exposure to these food products,” he concluded.
The department thereafter responded to the senator’s request while an investigation got underway with DOH officials, led by medical director Dr. Joseph Tufa,  collecting data from LBJ Medical Center on patients with possible signs of food poisoning who had been seen at the Emergency Room.
Data collection was completed Tuesday this week followed by a briefing of the management team. From the data, it has been revealed that between Apr. 1st and April 4th, there were 34 people who were  “highly suspected" of having food poisoning who had been seen at the ER according to DOH acting director Farah Utu, speaking to Samoa News yesterday morning.
She said these individuals came in later in the afternoon or early evening and were treated and released, with no one requiring overnight hospitalization. Signs or symptoms of food poisoning include stomach ache, vomiting and diarrhea. She noted that the 34 people came from several villages — Malaeloa, Leone, Fagatogo, Faleniu and Ili’li.
“After Apr. 4 there were no other cases reported at the ER,” said Utu, who added that the DOH findings are now being put together in an official report to be submitted to the Senate.
Asked about the source of the food poisoning, Utu said this was an issue that was discussed at length by the DOH medical team and many of the people that were treated at LBJ said they had eaten musubi. 
In its media statement announcing illnesses from spam musubi reported in American Samoa, DOH said most of the ill have been young children; ages 3-8 years.
Consumer mishandling of spam musubi — such as holding without proper refrigeration for too long before eating — may have caused some of the illness, it says. Additionally, DOH has investigated the cause and reminds consumers that spam musubi — and similar foods like sandwiches with mayonnaise — are a highly perishable food product.
Therefore, such foods should be kept at safe temperatures — Hot foods at 140 degrees F or above, and  Cold foods at 45 degrees F or below — or eaten within four hours of preparation.
According to DOH, the illnesses have been associated with spam musubi purchased from a number of different vendors on Tutuila and DOH has conducted an investigation of retail and production establishments.
Moreover, sanitation inspectors on Tutuila are also conducting random checks on retailers to ensure time and temperature requirements are being met by those that sell spam musubi and other “ready to eat” perishable foods.
Last Friday, Tufa was on KSBS-FM talking about the prevention of food poisoning and that includes making sure that hands are washed properly before eating, making sure that the meat is well cooked, and so forth.
Parents are encouraged to make sure that their young children wash their hands thoroughly before eating, and that the foods that will be consumed by children and even adults are well prepared and fresh, especially when it involves sandwiches in which mayonnaise is used, said Utu.
With the upcoming Flag Day celebration, which means a lot of food will be out there, Utu said Tufa and his team will present another radio show this Friday on KSBS talking about the importance of food poisoning prevention.
For more information on this issue please call the 633-4606 or Dr. Tufa at 252-1403.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides a long list of ways to prevent food poisoning at: www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html


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