Israelis Shun Tuna After Cafe Poisoning Stir

Health Ministry blames improper storage for incident earlier this week that left two hospitalized

People queue at the Aroma branch at Weizmann Street in Tel Aviv.
Moti Milrod

Israelis were avoiding buying tuna fish at supermarkets or ordering it at restaurants after two people were hospitalized earlier in the week for food poisoning linked to the item at a Tel Aviv branch of the popular café chain Aroma.

Shai Berman, CEO of the Restaurants and Cafes Association, said members reported sales of tuna items on their menus had plummeted between 40% and 70%.

“A drop like that is to be expected in light of the fallout from that unfortunate but isolated incident at the Aroma café in Tel Aviv,” he told TheMarker. “Tuna is a basic item, especially for cafes, but we need to remember that cafes have a lot of substitute items, so the drop has affected just one menu item not sales as a whole.”

He said cafes and restaurants were experiencing a big drop in business anyhow because so many Israelis were abroad for the holidary season.

Tuna fears were magnified by reports of other people falling ill and rushed to hospitals after eating tuna at other cafes. Some of the incidents occurred as far back as a month ago.

In one case reported by Channel 12 television, two people were hospitalized after eating tuna at two separate Jerusalem branches of the Neeman café chain. Tests showed the tuna contained high levels of the toxin histamine. Neeman was fined but the company never publicly disclosed the incident.

At supermarkets, tuna sales were down, too, especially for the Williger brand packaged by the food importer Neto. Williger is the brand used by Aroma, and its sales have fallen more than 50%, said an executive at a supermarket chain who asked not to be identified. Other brands are down about 10%, he added.

“Scores of customers at our stores have been asking us if it’s okay to eat tuna. In the last two days the drop in tuna sales has reached almost 40% on average,” he said.

On Thursday the Health Ministry reported that the first of several tests on the tainted tuna pointed to improper storage in two-kilo bags at the Aroma café on Tel Aviv’s Menachem Begin Street. It said other test results would be coming in the next few days.

The ministry said the bags contained a warning that the contents should be used immediately after opening, but because the bags are so big they can’t be used that quickly and may remain open for as long as a day at a time.