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Formerly unlicensed sushi seller at Reading Hospital back in compliance after investigation

An emergency inspection of Reading Hospital’s cafeteria was prompted by an incident Oct. 7. A person who ate an ahi tuna poke bowl prepared by TTT Star Sushi suffered what the person said was an allergic-like reaction after consuming the raw fish dish.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture redacted records show the complaint was filed Oct. 8 by phone and that the person developed a rash and other symptoms of a probable histamine reaction within 45 minutes of eating the tuna and had eaten the dish before with no reaction. The person’s symptoms improved after taking an antihistamine, the complaint report said.

Redacted complaint filed with the PDA

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology there is a condition known as histamine toxicity, also known as scombroid poisoning, that can occur when consuming some types of fish.

“Some kinds of fish contain naturally high levels of the chemical histidine,” explains the organization’s website, “This chemical can be converted to histamine by bacteria. In an allergic reaction, mast cells release histamine which triggers allergy symptoms. So, if a person eats fish that has a high level of histamine, the response may resemble an allergic reaction to that food.

“Certain kinds of fish are more prone to cause histamine toxicity. These include tuna, mackerel, mahi mahi, anchovy, herring, bluefish, amberjack and marlin.”

Inadequate refrigeration and spoiled fish are the most likely causes of histamine toxicity the AAAAI said.

According to the complaint, Dennis Brennan, manager of retail food operations at Reading Hospital, obtained the two unsold tuna bowls from that day and put them aside to await further instruction from the state Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture never tested those bowls.

“The hospital had disposed of the other two before our inspector was able to obtain them,” said Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Department of Agriculture, in an email. “We traced the supplier of the tuna and tested samples of the lot of tuna used to prepare the poke bowls. Those samples were tested and did not show high levels of histamine.”

Tower Health refused to make Brennan available for an interview

“The complainant believed they had a histamine (allergic) reaction to the tuna, although it was not confirmed. Nothing was added to the tuna. It was frozen tuna, pan-seared by TTT Star Sushi. Tuna can have a detectable level of histamine, but there is a federal maximum level of 50 ppm of histamine, as levels exceeding that can cause allergic reactions.”

On Oct. 13, the PDA visited the Hershey, Dauphin County, location of TTT Star Sushi, the source of tuna used to make the bowls in West Reading.

“The raw, frozen tuna from the supplier, tested by PDA, had negligible levels of histamine,” Powers said. “The inspection of TTT Star Sushi showed some food-handling practices that may have contributed to increased levels of histamine, but that could not be verified as causing the illness. The operator was cooperative and made changes to their practices as suggested by the PDA Inspector.”

During an Oct. 19 inspection at Reading Hospital, the PDA discovered “at the time of inspection the facility was operating an onsite sushi preparation location without a valid retail license” according to the report filed in the agriculture department’s food safety database. There were seven violations observed, and TTT Star Sushi @ Reading Hospital was listed as out of compliance.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture TTT Star Sushi @ Reading Hospital inspection report 101921

“During the course of the investigation, a determination was made that the TTT Star Sushi should have been operating with their own retail license, and not under the auspices of the Reading Hospital license,” Powers stated. “The responsibility was not with the hospital to obtain the license, but was the responsibility of TTT Star Sushi. The facility erroneously believed they could operate under the hospital license, and was issued a warning letter for operating without a license.”

Powers explained that TTT Star Sushi was not shut down because the operator immediately completed an application form for its own license and none of the violations observed during the Oct. 19 inspection were imminent health hazards.

Powers said it was unknown how long TTT Star Sushi was operating in West Reading without a license.

When Tower Health was asked the same question, as well as if it had conducted its own testing on the remaining sushi bowls unsold on Oct. 7, they provided the following statement on Nov. 11.

“Food safety is a priority at Reading Hospital and we are cooperating with the Department of Agriculture on the recent report. We are not able to comment on any ongoing investigation.”

A follow-up inspection of TTT Star Sushi @ Reading Hospital on Nov. 3 showed no violations.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture TTT Star Sushi@ Reading Hospital inspection report 110321

The PDA still needed to receive some updated paperwork on TTT Star Sushi’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan, but Powers that would be verified at the department’s next inspection, sometime within the next six months.

TTT Star Sushi operates several locations in Pennsylvania, include at Karns Foods in Harrisburg, Lemoyne, Etters, Mechanicsburg and Carlisle. It also operates at the Lebanon Farmers Market and was out of compliance during a 2019 inspection for several violations relating to food temperature.

Source: Berkshire mont

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