S Korean shellfish may be contaminated: Taiwan govt

Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said yesterday that it is investigating whether shellfish imports from South Korea are safe or not. The US FDA recently urged the removal of such products from the market due to norovirus contamination (from a possible exposure to human fecal matter).

While the US is Taiwan's biggest oyster import source, about one-third of Taiwan's oysters are imported from South Korea, Taiwan FDA staffer Tsai Su-chen said. A total of around 77,800 kilograms of oysters have been imported in three batches since May.

Yesterday, the US FDA announced the removal warning. A total of at least four people have fallen ill after eating South Korean seafood including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops, since last October.

The regulatory warning covers a range of fresh, canned, and processed seafood products that contain molluscan shellfish, which entered the United States before May 1.

"These products and any products made with them may have been exposed to human fecal waste and are potentially contaminated with norovirus," the FDA said in a statement, pointing out that comprehensive evaluations revealed that the sanitation standards of South Korea's shellfish industry no longer meet the US standards.

Norovirus is among the most common causes of viral gastroenteritis in humans. It is readily transmitted either directly in person-to-person cases or indirectly by food and water which has come into contact with human feces. In addition to acute gastroenteritis, symptoms of those infected, which usually occur within 12-48 hours of exposure and last up to three days, are characterized by nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and low-grade fever.

The virus is most often detected in shellfish and salad ingredients. It is rapidly inactivated by sufficient heating.

Taiwanese health officials are currently investigating whether the recent food poisoning cases at four branches of a chain restaurant were caused by contaminated oysters. In addition, the Taipei City and Taoyuan County health departments have joined forces to destroy 8,000 oyster products. The Executive Yuan Department of Health is also conducting epidemiology research on the prevalence of the virus in Taiwan.

Many hotels said yesterday that the seafood products used in their restaurants are all domestically harvested, including the Regent Hotel, Howard Hotel, and Ambassador Hotel. Wholesalers such as RT-Mart and Carrefour as well as many chain restaurants have also clarified that their seafood is cultivated in Taiwan.

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