An Oregon company is recalling a frozen berry mix sold to Costco and Harris Teeter stores after the product was linked to at least 49 hepatitis illnesses in seven states, including Utah.
The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., has recalled its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, packaged under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at those stores.
In Utah, four hepatitis cases have been linked to berries sold at Costco stores, said Valoree Vernon, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. Two illnesses related to the virus were reported in Davis County, one in Kane County and one in Utah County. The onset dates of illness range from mid-March to mid-May. None of the individuals was hospitalized.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks to a several months. People often contract it when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. Food already contaminated with the virus can also cause outbreaks. Illnesses occur within 15 to 50 days of exposure. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool.
Vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure, and those who have already been vaccinated are unlikely to become ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although hepatitis A can cause severe sickness, nearly all who become ill recover completely with no lasting liver damage.
Utah health officials don’t expect many more cases because of the recall and public awareness generated by news stories last week that described the link between the berries and the outbreak.
All 10 Costco stores in Utah had carried the product, said Larry Lewis, spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
“We are working with Costco to ensure that all products have been removed from store shelves,” Lewis said. “The advice to consumers who purchased the product is to not eat any of it and discard any unused product. You may contact the store for a refund.”
Other illnesses also have been reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California and Hawaii.
The recall came three days after the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control first announced a suspected link between the berries and the illnesses. The agency did not say why there was not an immediate recall.
Costco has stores across the country, while Harris Teeter stores are in eight East Coast states and the District of Columbia. Both grocery chains have said they have pulled the product from store shelves.
The FDA said it is inspecting the processing facilities of Townsend Farms. 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.
Bill Gaar, a lawyer for Townsend Farms, said last week that the frozen organic blend bag includes pomegranate seeds from Turkey. The seeds are used only in the product associated with the outbreak and no other Townsend Farms products, he said.
“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 said.
CDC said the first illnesses were reported at the end of April. The same genotype of hepatitis A was identified in an outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries this year, the CDC said, as well as a 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt. In addition to the United States and Turkey, the agency said the Townsend Farms berries also included products from Argentina and Chile.
What to do if you came in contact with the product
If you ate any of the recalled product and haven’t been vaccinated against hepatitis A, contact your health care provider or local health department to find out if you should be vaccinated or receive immune globulin (IG). To be effective, IG should be given within the first two weeks after exposure. The hepatitis A vaccine can be given to those 1 year old through 40 years of age.
Contact your health care provider immediately if you develop any of these symptoms:
• Yellow eyes or skin
• Abdominal pain
• Pale stools
• Dark urine
Source: Utah Department of Health