The state is investigating 14 cases of salmonella on Oahu that are believed linked to tainted limu from an Oahu seaweed farm.
In a news release issued Monday, the Department of Health said officials have ordered the farm to halt operations and advise its customers to remove its product from sale immediately.
The problem seaweed came from Olokai Hawaii, a seaweed farm in Kahuku. The owner, Dr. Wenhao Sun, said tainted water used in aquaponics may be to blame.
"I was really surprised," he said. "I don't know how this could happen."
The state said the cases of salmonella were in children and adults. All of the cases developed diarrheal illness from mid- to late October.
Four patients required hospitalization.
Officials said while the source of the cases has not yet been confirmed, preliminary investigations identified consumption of poke with seaweed in the cases.
“Although our investigation is still ongoing, our preliminary investigation has implicated limu, also known as ogo or seaweed, produced at a particular farm on Oahu,” said state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park. “To protect the public’s health, the department stepped in to make sure this product is no longer being put on the market pending further investigation. At the same time, we want the public to be aware of the situation so they may seek medical care if needed.”
Dr. Sun says in 10 years of operations, his farm has never experienced problems like this.
"We will learn more and we will find the problem," he said. "Then we can move on so we will satisfy our customers and make sure all the food is safe."
Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause illness in humans who come in contact with affected animals or their waste.
Common symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. Nausea and vomiting can also occur.
Symptoms typically begin within 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria. Persons who are experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care.
As with many other food-borne illnesses, salmonella infection can be prevented by thoroughly cooking food.
"If you're going to consume limu, make sure that it is cooked appropriately," said Park. "Do not eat it raw at this point because unfortunately, we don't know the scope of the distribution, so we don't know which limu is okay and which limu is not."
Dr. Sun said the sea asparagus grown on his farm is not contaminated and still safe to consume.