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30 Hepatitis A Illnesses Linked to Organic Berries Sold at Costco

A new outbreak of a hepatitis A strain rarely seen in the Western Hemisphere is believed to be associated with frozen mixed berries purchased from Costco is being investigated by multiple agencies, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.  At least 30 illnesses are involved, including  sicknesses in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries purchased from Costco appear to be the source of this outbreak.

The outbreak strain has  been identified by CDC as hepatitis A virus (HAV) genotype 1B, a strain that circulates in North Africa and the Middle East.  It was associated with last year’s outbreak in Europe involving frozen berries and another in British Columbia involving frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt.

According to the label, The Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend frozen berry mix associated with illness contained pomegranate seeds and other produce from the US, Argentina, Chile,  and Turkey. The product is a blend of cherries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, raspberries and strawberries. Costco has removed this product from its shelves, but has not yet issued a formal recall.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the product, including testing berries for the Hepatitis A virus, which may take several weeks.

Colorado public health officials say three women and two men in the state, from ages 35 to 71, were stricken with hepatitis A. They are from Adams, Boulder, Clear Creek and Jefferson Counties. The state has asked people to discard the berry product if they have it in their freezers.

 

The risk of contracting hepatitis A from eating these berries is low, according to the Colorado public health warning. “However, if you have eaten Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries during the past 14 days, contact your medical provider for an immunization. If you do not have a medical provider, contact your local health department,” advises the health department.

The hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection if given within 14 days of exposure. Some people should receive immune globulin instead of the hepatitis A vaccine.

If you ate the affected berries within the past 14 days, please discuss with your doctor whether you should receive the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin. If you have received the hepatitis A vaccine in the past, you do not need to be revaccinated.

If it has been more than 14 days since you have eaten these berries, the vaccine won’t be effective preventing infection. Please monitor for symptoms and contact your physician if you become ill.

Early signs of hepatitis A appear two to six weeks after exposure. Symptoms commonly include mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, dark urine and jaundice (yellow eyes or skin). It is very important if you have these symptoms that you do not go to work, especially if you work in food service, health care or child care.

The disease varies in severity, with mild cases lasting two weeks or less and more severe cases lasting four to six weeks or longer. Hepatitis A infection can be severe and can result in hospitalization.

Some individuals, especially children, may not develop jaundice and may have an illness so mild it can go unnoticed. However, even mildly ill people can be highly infectious. People with symptoms suggestive of a hepatitis infection should consult a physician immediately, even if symptoms are mild.

Hepatitis A virus is spread via the fecal-oral route, and may be transferred from person to person through close contact or through food handling. Contaminated food or beverages commonly spread the virus. People are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis A when they have been in close contact with an infected person.

© Food Safety News
  • deneen

    Will washing fruit and vegetables kill the virus? How can the virus survive if frozen?

    • KatMT

      No and No.

  • flameforjustice

    It’s tragic when they food we buy and consume makes us sick, deathly ill, permanently disabled or dead.

    • SirBedevere

      That has been true of all times and all places, as far as I know. A golden age of food safety exists only in the minds of consumers.

  • mzmarz180

    Is there a “Best used by date” to check to see if tainted or time frame of purchase?
    I’ve had my bag for more than a couple months. Is Costco giving refunds?

    • KatMT

      Yes there is a “used by date” , but Costco will give your money back …take it back to the store to be safe.

  • Caroline

    So why are these berries from the US, Argentina, Chili and Turkey??? Initially I got the impression they were US berries from an organic farm in Oregon. Buyers, always check where the product comes from!

  • carz

    Was this product sold in Michigan?

    • KatMT

      So far, no.

  • Kelly

    Quite buying products from foreign countries and rely on USA made products. Especially the China nightmare our government has created… If it’s not made in the USA then don’t buy it… that will create the kind of environment we all want for our future….

    Organics can be purchased year round in USA via hothouses and warmer climates……

    Going cheap is not always the best!!!

    • Gary

      What you don’t realize Kelly is there are many instances of food safety issues within the US as well. The country of origin is not the best indicator of food safety. Sure, there are some generalities that can be applied, but making a statement like yours because of this issue is just nonsense.

      • KatMT

        True ! You have to be Pro-active in treating all foods carefully. Washing the outside with soap and water, or a veggie cleansing solution. Even when I cut cantaloupe ,I wash the outside first because when you cut it you can contaminate the inside flesh with reusing the knife ! Especially after the e-coli problem they had in Colorado.

        Not sure about the Organic spinach recall in California where they said it was INSIDE the plant and washing would not kill it ..Like it absorbed it through watering. Cooking would, although who wants to eat cooked poop ? lol

        If you can peel it , you can eat it …..sometimes !!!

    • KatMT

      Yeah, now I am worried about China buying the Smithfield Hams….They will ship it all over there, and our hams will go sky-hi in price….!
      Hope they dont throw the sick hogs in the river like they do there !! Geeze !

  • James McMillin

    Is there a product label we can identify for care in choosing frozen berries in other large food outlets?

    • KatMT

      The back of all packages HAS to say where it is from . I spend “forever” reading labels :-(

  • XX

    it’s not a healthy problem.It should be political problem.maybe there are some conflict between costco’s boss and darkness power, FDA VS costco, you see. who is the real boss of FDA? you got it

  • XX

    costo was attacked by his opponent,because coke cole was knocked out and pepsi is in.

  • hof

    This is what you get from eating organic – fecal-oral transmission of disease and actual deaths. I can’t understand why people think organic is so good for you.

    • HAM

      Um, this issue has nothing to do with the product being organic. You can get hep A and other diseases from organic AND conventional. It has to do with people and facilities not practicing good hygiene /cleanliness.

      • KatMT

        I agree, its not washing your hands !!! You can have Organic and feel safe ,but if the guy packing it has poopy hands you are in trouble ! Hep A is bad. If you already have liver disease or cirrhosis it can kill you .

      • Jeff West

        it has to do with the f.d.a. and u.s.d.a. being ran by huge companies and not being community based. ALL of our health problems in this country stem originally from big business being able to buy off these federal agencies that are supposed to be watching out for OUR best interests. now they help the big business with their bottom line. and what is a corporations bottom line? MONEY, not the customer.

  • Brent Stucki

    Concerning
    Sunrise Growers frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend sold at Costco, and
    the Hepatitis A problem associated with the Townsend Farms recall. Here
    is what I was told by Sunrise Growers today, 6/5/2013…

    Our
    Sunrise Growers products are not included in any aspect of the
    Townsend/Hepatitis A recall issue. We have no affiliation with Townsend
    Farms and do NOT source our fruit from the same suppliers.

    I would like to reassure you that our Sunrise Growers Antioxidant Blend
    products are safe. Our company follows strict food safety guidelines
    and practices and has attained the highest level of food safety
    certification (SQF Level 3) available within our industry.

    Thank you for contacting us and we hope you enjoy our delicious frozen fruit products.

    Best regards,

    Christine Herrera
    VP Marketing
    Sunrise Growers~Frozsun Foods
    701 W. Kimberly St., Suite 210
    Placentia, CA 92870

    • danwat1234

      Yup bought some of the Sunrise Growers frozen fruit from Costco, trusting that it is fine

  • KatMT

    Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks to a several months. People often contract it when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. Food already contaminated with the virus can also cause outbreaks.

    The FDA said it is inspecting the processing facilities of Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., which sold the mix. The CDC said the strain of hepatitis is rarely seen in North or South America but is found in the North Africa and Middle East regions.

    Bill Gaar, a lawyer for Townsend Farms, said the frozen organic blend bag includes pomegranate seeds from Turkey, and are only used in the product associated with the outbreak.

    Townsend Farms said the ingredient that may be linked to the outbreak is the
    pomegranate seeds from Turkey.

    “Why would a company get produce from Turkey?” asked Mark Minvielle, who
    works in Santa Cruz and had a bag of the frozen berries not yet opened.

    Townsend Farms, on its website, explained that it takes advantage of growers
    around the globe “to provide the freshest produce available no matter the
    growing season in the Pacific NW.”

  • KatMT

    FYI : CHOBANI is safe !!!!
    Hello
    Kathleen,

    We understand your concern, however the pomegranate seeds used in our
    0% Pomegranate Chobani Greek Yogurt are not sourced from the processing facility
    connected to this outbreak, nor are they sourced from Turkey. Moreover, the
    pomegranate seeds we use are pasteurized at regulatory temperatures and for
    prescribed times before being added to our yogurt products.

    Thank you giving us the opportunity to address this with you.

    Sincerely,
    Bill Cook
    Customer Loyalty Team
    147 State Highway 320
    Norwich, New York 13815
    o 877-847-6181
    f 607-337-1240