Monday, June 3, 2013

Berry Mix Containing Pomegranate and Hepatitis A

Update - 6/7/13
There are now 79 cases of Hepatitis A linked to the organic frozen berrry and pomegranante mix.

From CDC
As of June 7, 2013, 79 people with acute hepatitis A infections that may be linked with consumption of a contaminated product have been reported by eight states: Arizona, California Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington. These numbers are expected to change as the investigation continues. 
Based on epidemiologic investigation of 55 cases:
  • 35 (64%) ill people are women
  • Ages range from 2 – 84 years
  • Illness onset dates range from 3/16/2013 – 6/1/2013
  • 30 (55%) ill people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported
  • 40 (73%) of 55 ill people interviewed reported eating “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix
  • 40 persons reported purchasing this product from Costco markets; however,the product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores. No cases have been identified that bought the product at Harris Teeter at this time.

There have been approximately 30 people show have contracted Hepatitis A from an organic frozen berry mix sold by an Oregon company through Costco. 

The blend is produced from fresh fruit and is often used fresh by customers to make smoothies and other fruit drinks. Therefore, if Hepatitis A is present on the incoming ingredients, it will not be eliminated by processing (viruses will easily survive freezing), and then end up in product the consumer eats. It can take as long as 60 days before someone sees the symptoms.

The strain of Hepatitis A is found primarily in North Africa and the Middle East, and one of the ingredients, pomegranate seeds, is said to come from Turkey.

On the company’s website for Townsend Farms (, this is what they have to say about their sourcing:
In addition to our beautiful acreage in the Columbia Gorge, Townsend Farms works with other family farms up and down the I-5 corridor, across the United States, and around the world. The Townsend family personally selects the farms we work with based on shared vision and goals, high standards of quality, a commitment to Good Agricultural Practices (G.A.P.) and sustainable farming methods.
Our globally-situated source farms are utilized to provide the freshest produce available no matter the growing season in the Pacific NW, enabling us to provide the best product possible year-round. Under the Townsend Farms umbrella, you can expect the same quality as the produce from our original farm. We confidently provide each source farm on every package of berries, frozen or fresh, private label or our own.
 Food safety is important for ingredients used in products that will be used in RTE (ready-to-eat) applications, This is especially difficult when those ingredients are purchased in international markets. If this company lives up to the promise posted on their website, they should have no problems working back to the source of the issue. Unfortunately, this is not the first time berries have been involved in outbreaks. Earlier this year, there was an outbreak in Europe (71) and another in Canada (8). The Canadian product contained pomegranate. So at this point, if a company is using pomegranate, it may be good to stop using it until the safety can be verified. As a consumer, I would forgo my pomegranate-containing smoothie.

Hepatitis A Outbreak Linked To Oregon Berry Farm


WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration is investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A linked to a frozen organic berry mix sold by an Oregon company.

The FDA and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 30 illnesses are linked to Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, which contains pomegranate seed mix. Illnesses were reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California.
Several of those who fell ill reported buying the berry mix at Costco, according to CDC. A Costco spokesman said Friday that the company has removed the product from stores and is attempting to contact members who purchased the product in recent months.

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.

The government has not announced a recall, but the CDC recommended that retailers and other food service operators should not sell or serve Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend.

The FDA said it is inspecting the processing facilities of Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., which sold the mix. 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 the frozen organic blend bag includes pomegranate seeds from Turkey, and are only used in the product 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 said.

He said 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.

Hepatitis A illnesses occur within 15 to 50 days of exposure to the virus. 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 CDC.

CDC said all of the victims are older than 18, ranging from 25 to 71 years old. 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.


Associated Press writers Dan Elliot and Catherine Tsai in Denver and Nigel Duara in Portland, Ore. contributed to this report.

Multistate outbreak of Hepatitis A potentially associated with a frozen berry blend food product

Posted May 31, 2013 4:15 PM ET

CDC is collaborating with public health officials in several states and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate a multistate outbreak of Hepatitis A illnesses. Preliminary results from the ongoing investigation are highlighted below.


· As of May 31, 2013, 30 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 19 cases:

o 12 (63%) ill people are women

o All people are ages 18 or older, ranging from 25 – 71 years

o Illness onset dates range from 4/29/2013 – 5/17/2013

o 9 (47%) ill people have been hospitalized
o 11 (65%) of 17 ill people interviewed reported eating ‘Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend,’ a frozen berry and pomegranate seed mix

o 11 persons who have provided purchase information 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.

o 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.

o 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.

o 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.

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