CDC, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and state health officials are collaborating to identify the source of foodborne hepatitis A diagnosed in at least 30 people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico since April 29. Eleven of 17 persons interviewed reported eating Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, which is a mix of cherries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, and strawberries. Berries in the blend originated in Oregon, Washington, Chile, and Argentina, and the pomegranate seeds came from Turkey. Townsend Farms, located in Fairview, Ore., processed the fruit. Consumers purchased the product at Costco, which has since removed the blend from its shelves. Townsend Farms has not issued a recall for the product, believing the product has been “isolated,” according to Bill Gaar, lawyer for Townsend Farms.
FDA suspects that pomegranate seeds imported from Turkey caused the outbreak. CDC reports that laboratory results from two of the 30 recently diagnosed patients showed a hepatitis A strain common to the Middle East and North Africa, but rare in North and South America. The US outbreak is the newest of three outbreaks within recent months: An outbreak in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway was traced to frozen berries from Egypt and Morocco; and 15 Europeans who ate berries in Italy were diagnosed with hepatitis A. FDA officials inspected the Townsend Farms facility on May 31 and planned to test the company’s berries for hepatitis A.
Foodborne hepatitis A outbreaks are rare; hepatitis A usually occurs among people who have travelled abroad. Vaccination can prevent hepatitis A if it is given prior to exposure or within two weeks of exposure. There is no treatment for hepatitis A, but doctors can give immune globulin to prevent or minimize the infection. Although hepatitis is acute, it does not cause long-term health issues.