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Hepatitis A Cases Rise to 127; FDA Identifies Pomegranate Shipment from Turkey

The Hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen mixed berries continues to grow. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said five more illnesses have been confirmed as part of the outbreak, bringing the total to 127 ill in 8 states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it thinks it has identified a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from Turkey that may have been to blame.

According to CDC, all of the confirmed victims became ill after eating Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend, a frozen berry blend sold across the country in Costco stores. Harris Teeter also sold the now recalled product, but so far no illnesses have been linked to the retailer.

Three weeks ago, Townsend Farms Inc. recalled certain lots of the frozen berries linked to the outbreak. This week, Scenic Fruit Company recalled certain lots of Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels, also thought to be at risk for contamination. Both companies initiating recalls are based in Oregon.

“FDA and CDC have determined that the most likely vehicle for the Hepatitis A virus appears to be a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from Turkey used by Scenic Fruit Company to make the recalled Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels and by Townsend Farms to make the recalled Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blend,” FDA said in an update to reporters on Friday.

“The FDA reviewed records and determined that the pomegranate seeds from this shipment were the only ingredient common to all of the recalled Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blend,” the update added. “FDA will be working with the firms who have distributed pomegranate seeds from this shipment from Turkey to help ensure that all recipients of these seeds are notified.”

According to Lynne Terry of the Oregonian, the seeds originally came from Goknur,  a fruit company based in Ankara, which shipped them to Purely Pomegranate, Inc., in Dana Point, Calif., according to a letter from Purely Pomegranate to its customers. Purely Pomegranate then resold them.  Townsend Farms included the seeds in its Organic Antioxidant Blend, Gaar said. Scenic Fruit Co. in Gresham packaged the frozen seeds for Woodstock Farms in Providence, R.I. under that company’s label, said Ryan Wist,  food safety manager for Scenic.

The updated case count by state is as follows: Arizona (17), California (64), Colorado (25), Hawaii (7), New Mexico (5), Nevada (5), Utah (2), and Wisconsin (2). [Note: The cases reported from Wisconsin resulted from exposure to the product in California.] Nearly 60 percent of those sickened are women. The ages in the outbreak range from 2 to 84 and include 6 children under the age of 18. CDC said none of the children had been vaccinated. More than half of those ill required hospitalization.

The outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus, belonging to genotype 1B, is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East, according to CDC.

Anyone concerned about exposure should contact their healthcare provider or health department. Consumers exposed to Hepatitis A within the last two weeks may benefit from a vaccine to prevent illness.

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