According to the Portland Oregonian, Townsend Farms ordered a recall on Monday of a frozen berry product linked to a hepatitis A outbreak.  Townsend Farms sold 332,000 packages of its Organic Antioxidant Blend through Costco stores nationwide. It also shipped to an East Coast chain, Harris Teeter, which sold the product under its own label.  Costco sold the potentially contaminated berries from February through May in 3 lb. bags. They have sequential best-by codes from T012415 through T053115. Distribution in Harris Teeter stores was limited to April 19 to May 7. Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend was sold in 10 oz. bags with best by codes of T041615E and T041615C.

The CDC reports today, as of June 3, 2013, 34 people ill with acute hepatitis A that may be linked with consumption of a contaminated product have been reported by five states: Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California. These numbers are expected to change as the investigation continues. Based on epidemiologic investigation of 25 cases:

  • 15 (60%) ill people are women
  • All people are ages 18 or older, ranging from 24 – 71 years
  • Illness onset dates range from 4/29/2013 – 5/21/2013
  • 11 (44%) ill people have been hospitalized
  • 19 (76%) of 25 ill people interviewed reported eating ‘Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend,’ a frozen berry and pomegranate seed mix
  • 19 persons reported purchasing this product from ‘Costco’ markets; however, investigations are ongoing to determine if this product was sold at other stores or venues.

Investigation by state health departments, FDA, and CDC is ongoing. Costco is notifying its members who purchased this product since late February 2013, and has removed this product from its shelves

Preliminary laboratory studies of specimens from two cases suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus (HAV) is genotype 1B. This strain is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in the North Africa and Middle East regions.

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.

According to the label, The Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend frozen berry mix associated with illness contained pomegranate seeds and other produce from the US, Argentina, Chile, and Turkey.

Hepatitis A is a human disease and usually occurs when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. However, food contaminated with HAV, as is suspected in this outbreak, can cause outbreaks of disease among persons who eat or handle food.