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Thousands Sought Vaccines Following Townsend Farms Hep A Outbreak

Thousands of people in the western United States have received hepatitis A vaccines since news broke on May 31 of an outbreak linked to Townsend Farms frozen berry mixes sold at Costco stores.

More than 10,000 people have received the vaccine from Costco pharmacies alone, according to Craig Wilson, Costco’s vice president of quality assurance and food safety.

That number does not include the customers who have been vaccinated elsewhere and then brought in receipts to receive reimbursement from Costco, Wilson said. He was not sure of the number of reimbursements Costco had issued.

Wilson credited local and county health departments in affected states with handling countless more vaccinations. The only state health department contacted by Food Safety News that could report a solid figure of vaccines delivered by government health departments was Colorado, which had given out 397 shots across the state as of June 13.

The county health departments of Los Angeles and San Diego in California and Maricopa in Arizona each administered a large number of vaccines, Wilson said. Those health departments were not able to report actual numbers to Food Safety News as of press time. The California Department of Public Health was also not sure of how many shots had been given statewide.

(Update, 6/24: The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has told Food Safety News it has given out more than 900 vaccinations.)

Wilson also said it was worth noting that no microbial testing had actually found the outbreak strain of hepatitis A on any berries from Townsend Farms. The rare outbreak strain isolated from patients, genotype 1b, originates from North Africa and the Middle East, leading investigators to single out the berry mix’s pomegranate seeds imported from Turkey.

“There’s been no microbial connection to the food through today as far as I’m aware of,” Wilson said.

Costco plans to continue selling Townsend Farms products once the outbreak has resolved, Wilson said, “as long as they’re doing everything they’re supposed to from a quality and food safety and testing perspective.”

To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked 113 confirmed infections of hepatitis A to Townsend Farms’ Organic Antioxidant berry blend. Of those sick, 50 people have been hospitalized. Townsend Farms announced a recall of the product sold at Costco and Harris Teeter stores on June 4.

Costco estimates that it sold 330,000 bags of the recalled product since February 2013. The retailer said it has contacted approximately 240,000 customers via phone and letters to inform them of the recall.

© Food Safety News