In recent news, frozen fruit products sold at popular grocery retailers, Costco and Trader Joe’s, have been linked to an outbreak of hepatitis A. The products were supplied by Townsend Farms and included frozen mixed berries and frozen blackberries. Here’s what you need to know about the outbreak and how to protect yourself.
As of June 4, 2013, 49 cases of hepatitis A have been reported in seven states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Of these cases, 30 people have been hospitalized. The majority of people who have been affected have reported consuming Townsend Farms frozen berries purchased at Costco.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been working with state and local health officials to investigate the outbreak. The CDC recommends that anyone who has purchased Townsend Farms frozen berries from Costco since late February 2013 should not eat them and should throw them away. Costco has removed the products from its stores and is contacting customers who purchased the products to inform them of the recall.
The products involved in the outbreak are frozen mixed berries and frozen blackberries sold under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at a limited number of stores. The frozen mixed berries include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. The products were sold in 3-pound bags and 48-ounce boxes.
The products were distributed nationwide and have a “Best By” date of February 2015. The products were also sold in Canada under the Costco label.
The cause of the outbreak has been traced back to pomegranate seeds that were imported from Turkey and used in the frozen berry products. The pomegranate seeds were supplied by a Turkish company called Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading. The company has also supplied the pomegranate seeds to other food manufacturers, including Scenic Fruit Company, which has recalled certain lots of its Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels.
The CDC has identified the strain of hepatitis A involved in the outbreak as genotype 1B, which is rarely seen in the Americas but is commonly found in the Middle East and North Africa. The CDC believes that the strain was introduced into the United States through the pomegranate seeds.
Symptoms and Treatment
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that can cause liver disease. The virus is usually spread through the fecal-oral route, such as when a person ingests food or water that has been contaminated with the virus. Symptoms of hepatitis A include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Pale stools
Symptoms typically appear within 15 to 50 days after exposure to the virus and can last for several weeks to several months. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A, but most people recover on their own within a few weeks to a few months. Severe cases may require hospitalization.
The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated. The hepatitis A vaccine is safe and effective and is recommended for all children at age 1 and for adults who are at risk of infection or who are traveling to areas with high rates of hepatitis A. In addition to vaccination, the following measures can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish
- Avoid consuming food or drinks that may have been prepared by someone who is infected with hepatitis A.
- If you are traveling to a country with high rates of hepatitis A, take precautions such as drinking only bottled water, avoiding ice, and avoiding raw fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.
If you believe that you may have been exposed to hepatitis A, contact your healthcare provider right away. Your healthcare provider can perform a blood test to determine if you have been infected with the virus.
The recent outbreak of hepatitis A linked to frozen fruit products sold at Costco and Trader Joe’s serves as a reminder of the importance of food safety and vaccination. If you have purchased frozen mixed berries or frozen blackberries from Townsend Farms, Costco, or Harris Teeter, do not eat them and throw them away. If you have consumed the products and are experiencing symptoms of hepatitis A, contact your healthcare provider right away. To prevent the spread of hepatitis A, wash your hands frequently, get vaccinated, and avoid consuming food or drinks that may have been contaminated with the virus.