Family affected by salmonella: 'It was just a horrible experience'

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Salt Lake family says it's probably going to avoid eating ahi poke with seaweed for a while.

Three members of the Murata family ate the poke a month ago and became ill shortly afterward. One of them -- eight-year-old Kai Murata -- was diagnosed with salmonella.

"In the morning I didn't  feel that good," said Kai. "And then I just waited for my dad to wake up, and he came and he checked my temperature. It was 101."

Kai and his parents had eaten ogo, the seaweed that has since been traced to Olakai Farms in Kahuku. His mom also fell ill, but it wasn't confirmed as salmonella.

"I definitely had the symptoms," said Alison Murata. "High fever, chills, nausea and the runs, and just body aches."

She missed three days of work, while her husband, Dean, only had minor symptoms. Five year-old daughter Hope didn't eat any poke, and didn't get sick.

A few days after Kai went to the doctor, the family got the bad news. "A call from the doctor's office and the Department of Health, saying 'your son tested positive for salmonella,'" said Alison Murata. "I'm like, wow!"

The department ordered Olakai Farms to stop selling ogo and sea asparagus last week after tests identified salmonella bacteria in the farm environment. Farm owner Dr. Wenhao Sun said he may have pinpointed the source in the water.

"The water sample taken out of farm indicated the presence of salmonella bacteria in our farm production in a processing area," said Sun, who added that the farm is continuing to cooperate with health officials.

Glenn Martinez, who owns Olomana Farms in Waimanalo, is familiar with Sun and the Olakai operation.

"We take the water out of a brackish well directly, and it comes over, and it flows through one time, and one time only, and it's gone," he said about Olakai Farms. In contrast, Martinez's farm uses aquaponics, in which the water is recycled.

Martinez believes the bacteria somehow got into Olakai's plumbing system. "So he's gotta go and take a look at all of his piping and all of his plumbing to make sure he doesn't have a dead pipe," he said. "And if you do have one, have a drain on it, have a process that does it."

Sun said the pipes were being disinfected and a new water sample would be taken this week. If it comes back negative for salmonella, he hopes to be back in business as soon as possible after that. But the Muratas may shy away from any seaweed in the future.

"I definitely wish this upon no one. It was just a horrible experience," said Alison Murata. "Definitely I'm going to stay away from ogo for a little while until things get solved."

When asked if he'd eat ahi poke with seaweed again, Kai Murata had a quick answer.

"No. Never. Ever."

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