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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Pomegranate Seeds from Turkey Link in US Hepatitis A Outbreak

As of June 27, 2013, 127 people have been confirmed to have become ill from Hepatitis A after eating ‘Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend’ in 8 states: Arizona (17), California (64), Colorado (25), Hawaii (7), New Mexico (5), Nevada (5), Utah (2), and Wisconsin (2). [Note: The cases reported from Wisconsin resulted from exposure to the product in California.]

The outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus, belonging to genotype 1B, was found in clinical specimens of 56 people in seven states: AZ (6), CA (15), CO (22), HI (4), NM (4), NV (4) and WI (1; the person was exposed in California). This subtype is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East.  This genotype was identified in a 2013 outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries and another 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt. However, there is no evidence at this time that these outbreaks are related to the ongoing U. S. outbreak.

On June 3, 2013, Townsend Farms, Inc. of Fairview, Oregon voluntarily recalled certain lots of its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend because it has the potential to be contaminated with hepatitis A virus.

By combining information gained from the FDA’s traceback and trace forward investigations and the CDC’s epidemiological investigation, FDA and CDC have determined that the most likely vehicle for the Hepatitis A virus is appears to be a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from Turkey used by Scenic Fruit Company to make the recalled Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels and by Townsend Farms to make the recalled Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend.

The FDA reviewed records and determined that the pomegranate seeds from this shipment were the only ingredient common to all of the recalled Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend.  On June 26, 2013, Scenic Fruit Company of Gresham, Oregon recalled specific lots of Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels.  Combining information gained from the FDA’s traceback and trace forward investigations and the CDC’s epidemiological investigation, it has been determined that the vehicle for the Hepatitis A virus is a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from Turkey used by Scenic Fruit Company in making the recalled Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels and by Townsend Farms in making Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend.

According to Lynne Terry of the Oregonian, the seeds originally came from Goknur,  a fruit company based in Ankara, which shipped them to Purely Pomegranate, Inc., in Dana Point, Calif., according to a letter from Purely Pomegranate to its customers. Purely Pomegranate then resold them.  Townsend Farms included the seeds in its Organic Antioxidant Blend, Gaar said. Scenic Fruit Co. in Gresham packaged the frozen seeds for Woodstock Farms in Providence, R.I. under that company’s label, said Ryan Wist,  food safety manager for Scenic.