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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back in the day, poke risks were all natural


By Lee Cataluna

It's hard to say which is more disturbing: news that 10 people in Hawai'i got salmonella from eating 'ahi poke or the revelation that some locally sold raw 'ahi is treated with carbon monoxide to make it look fresher.

What?!

Collagen lips, Botox foreheads, carbon monoxide pūpū. The world has gone mad.

This isn't the first time there's been a salmonella outbreak related to 'ahi poke. In February 2008, the state Department of Health issued a similar news release, saying an additional case of salmonella poisoning had been attributed to eating 'ahi poke purchased at a local market. "Since October 2007, the DOH has identified a total of 34 confirmed cases of Salmonella Paratyphi B infection on Oahu. An exhaustive investigation by the DOH identified raw imported frozen ahi used in ahi poke as a possible source of illness. Confirmation of additional cases in Colorado and California related to the consumption of raw fish has prompted an investigation by the U.S. FDA."

Two years later, this new outbreak is generating the same "the feds are looking into this" response.

The weird thing is that salmonella doesn't occur naturally in fish, so it had to be introduced somewhere during the processing. Again.

But the really weird thing is the carbon monoxide. Fish that is imported can be treated with carbon monoxide to look redder and fresher than it is. The FDA is cool with that. Gas 'em. How weird is that? It almost makes you nostalgic for some good old-fashioned ciguatera poisoning. At least that's naturally occurring.

Two years ago, local fishermen demonstrated outside a supermarket urging people to buy locally caught fish to avoid what is referred to as "gassed fish." Environmental watchdog Carroll Cox covers the issue on his website. The packages of gassed 'ahi include "CO" as one of the ingredients, or there is a mention of being treated with "CO," but unless you paid attention in Mr. Omuro's chemistry class or carry the periodic table of elements in your pocket, you might miss that "CO" is carbon monoxide. You know, the thing that kills people when they breathe car exhaust in a poorly ventilated area. Oh, but it leaves their cheeks nice and perky pink.

So there's the salmonella with its associated bloody diarrhea to worry about. And then there's the poison gas.

And, cousin, I know what you're thinking, but Heineken is not the universal antidote.

State Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino said, basically, any time you eat raw food, you're talking a risk. Sure, but there's the inherent, natural risk like finding a worm in your apple and there's the introduced, funky risk like your apple being sprayed with DDT. Somehow the risks of poke seemed to be much simpler (fresh versus pilau) than salmonella and carbon monoxide. Ignorance was bliss.