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S. Korean shellfish may be contaminated: gov't

Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said yesterday that it is investigating whether shellfish imports from South Korea are safe or not. The U.S. 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 U.S. 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 (蔡淑貞) said. A total of around 77,800 kilograms of oysters have been imported in three batches since May.

Yesterday, the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 (晶華), Howard Hotel (福華飯店), and Ambassador Hotel (國賓飯店). Wholesalers such as RT-Mart (大潤發) and Carrefour (家樂福) as well as many chain restaurants have also clarified that their seafood is cultivated in Taiwan.

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Oysters like the one seen in this file photo are under scrutiny after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urged the removal of South Korean shellfish suspected of being contaminated with norovirus after being exposed to human fecal waste.

(The China Post file photo)

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