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Toll rises to 118 in Hepatitis A outbreak tied to frozen fruit mix

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Frozen fruit blend sold at Costco sickens more people with Hepatitis A

The toll is rising for people sickened with acute hepatitis A after consuming a frozen berry mix they purchased at Costco stores. At least 118 people in eight states now have the viral liver disease, and 51 have been hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Between March 18 and June 8, victims ranging in age from 2 to 87 have been reported in the ongoing outbreak linked to the frozen berry mix, sold by an Oregon fruit processing firm under the brand, Townsend Farms Antioxidant Blend. In each case, those sickened had bought and eaten that same frozen berry and pomegranate blend from Costco.

In the meantime, Townsend Farms is cooperating with both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is conducting an inspection of the firm’s processing facilities.

Townsend Farms recalled certain lots of the product on June 3.

As of June 17, 2013, the CDC reports that it is investigating acute hepatitis A illnesses in 118 people in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington.

In addition, the agency reports the following data, based on completed investigations of 112 cases:

• 66 of the 118 (59%) ill people are women
• Illness onset dates range from 3/16/2013 – 6/8/2013
• 80 of the 112 (71%) ill people interviewed reported eating “Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix

The CDC also offers the following advice to consumers on its website:

1. Do not eat recalled ‘Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend’ frozen berry and pomegranate mix and discard any remaining product from your freezers.

a. This product was sold at Costo stores in 3 lb. bags with the UPC 078414 40448.
b. This product was sold at Harris Teeter stores in 10 oz bags with the UPC 072036 70463 4.
c. Even if some of the product has been eaten without anyone in your home becoming ill, the rest of the product should be discarded.

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2. Hepatitis A vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure to the contaminated product.

• If you consumed this product in the last two weeks and have never been vaccinated, contact your health care provider to find out if you should be vaccinated. If you don’t have a health care provider (usually your doctor) contact your health department. You can find your health department contact information at this website.
• If you have already received the hepatitis A vaccination in the past, you are unlikely to become ill with the disease

Questions and Answers on Hepatitis A and Vaccination

3. Contact your health care provider right away if you develop any of these symptoms:

• Yellow eyes or skin
• Abdominal pain
• Pale stools
• Dark urine

4. You can prevent cross-contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, and disinfect counters, cutting boards, and cooking utensils after use

5. Wash your hands thoroughly right after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing, serving, or eating food.

Hepatitis A is spread when human feces contaminates food or when an infected food handler prepares food without properly washing their hands. The disease can cause mild to severe illness and last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Symptoms can include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, low fever and yellowing of the eyes and skin. However, some people with hepatitis A do not show any signs of disease.

According to health officials, shots to prevent the illness must be received within two weeks of eating contaminated food in order to prevent illness.

Meanwhile, numerous lawsuits against Costco and Townsend Farms have been filed. Marler Clark, a Seattle food safety law firm, has filed a class action suit on behalf of people who ate the product and then had to get injections of immune globulin or hepatitis A vaccine to prevent illness.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Multistate outbreak of Hepatitis A infections associated with “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix (June 17, 2013).