Federal officials have red listed frozen strawberries from an Egyptian grower-shipper because of contamination with Hepatitis A, but they won’t say if the import ban is related to the ongoing outbreak linked to Tropical Smoothie Café locations.
The Food and Drug Administration issued an Import Alert for frozen strawberries from the International Company for Agricultural Production & Processing (ICAPP) on Wednesday, meaning frozen strawberries from the Egyptian firm will be detained at the border and not allowed to be distributed in the U.S.
All of the “notes” field on the Import Alert has been blacked out by the FDA, except for the phrase “Problem(s): Hepatitis A (1b)” at the end of the information.
A spokesman for FDA said the agency could not comment on whether the Import Alert is related to the Hepatitis A outbreak traced to frozen strawberries from Egypt that were used by the Tropical Smoothie Café restaurant chain. He cited confidential corporate information (CCI) regulations and also said the investigation is ongoing.
“The CDC would have to provide information about the outbreak strain,” the FDA spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for the CDC said Monday afternoon that the agency would not comment on whether the Hepatitis A (1b) strain reported in the FDA’s Import Alert is the same one that sickened Tropical Smoothie Café patrons.
As of Thursday the outbreak had sickened 134 people in nine states with 70 percent of the victims having symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization, according to the CDC. The agency has not specified what subtype of the virus is involved in the current outbreak.
However, in a report about a Hepatitis A outbreak in 2013 that was traced to frozen pomegranate arils from Turkey, the CDC noted that the (1b) subtype of Hepatitis A is mostly associated with certain regions of the world, including Egypt.
“This genotype is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East,” the 2013 CDC report states.
“This genotype was identified in a 2013 outbreak of Hepatitis A virus infections in Europe linked to frozen berries and a 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt.”
Also linking the (1b) genotype to strawberries from Egypt, researchers reported in the medical journal The Lancet about two outbreaks of Hepatitis A (1b) in Europe in 2013.
“In both outbreaks, frozen or fresh strawberries were implicated as the vehicle of infection,” according to the article in The Lancet.
“In the first outbreak in the Nordic countries, the implicated frozen strawberries were found to be imported either from Egypt or Morocco. In the second outbreak, affecting travelers returning from Egypt, the implicated fresh strawberries were most likely locally produced.”
The Egyptian firm ICAPP promotes its strawberries on its website as a cornerstone of its growing, processing, packing and shipping operation. The company owns and leases 4,000 acres and an annual production capacity of 45,000 tonnes, according to its website.
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