Update: The CDC now says the outbreak of hepatitis A linked to Townsend Farms frozen berriy mix sold at Costco has grown to 87 people with illnesses in eight states. Costco is providing vaccinations for people who ate the berries within the last two weeks and is reimbursing others who have gotten the vaccine outside the store.
The FDA is examining an outbreak of hepatitis A linked to a frozen organic berry mix sold by Costco. The product is labeled Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend.
On Friday, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 30 people have become ill so far in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The first illnesses were reported at the end of April. According to the CDC, all of the victims are older than 18, ranging from 25 to 71 years old.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks to a several months. People typically get the disease via an infected food handler. Outbreaks can also be caused by food already contaminated with the virus.
Hepatitis A illnesses occur within 15 to 50 days of exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fatigue, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, abdominal pain, dark urine, and pale stool. According to the CDC, if a vaccination is given within two weeks of exposure, it can prevent the illness, and those who already are vaccinated are unlikely to become ill.
An official recall has not been announced by the government, but the the CDC recommends that retailers should not sell or serve Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend. A Costco spokesman said Friday that the company has removed the product from stores and is attempting to contact members who purchased the berry mix in recent months. The FDA also said they are inspecting processing facilities at Townsend Farms of Fairview, Oregon.
According to Bill Gaar, a lawyer for Townsend Farms, the frozen organic blend bag includes pomegranate seeds from Turkey, and that those may be associated with the outbreak. "We do have very good records, we know where the (pomegranate seeds) came from, we're looking into who the broker is and we're sourcing it back up the food chain to get to it."
Gaar added that Townsend Farms believes Costco is the only customer who bought the product, though they are checking to see if any other retailers may have sold it.
The CDC said the strain of hepatitis is rarely seen in North or South America but is found in the North Africa and Middle East regions. Earlier this year, the same genotype of hepatitis A was identified in an outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries, as well as a 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt.