An Oregon farm’s frozen berry mix, Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, has been linked to an outbreak of Hepatitis A across several states. It appears that Costco is the only retailer that has sold the affected berry mix, however, that is still be investigated. While there is no official government recall at this point, Costco has removed the product from freezers and is attempting to contact anyone that bought the berry mix since late February. However, if you have a bag of it in your freezer, I would suggest you refrain from eating it and return it to Costco for a refund whether or not you receive a call.
Since late April thirty people have reported becoming ill as a result of the contaminated berry mix. Illnesses were reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. Luckily, only nine of the infected people have needed hospitalisation and there have been no deaths. According to the CDC, early tests from two cases indicate that the Hepatitis A strain (genotype 1B) is one that is rarely seen in North America, but is found in the North Africa and Middle East regions. There are pomegranate seeds in the mix from Turkey, which seem the most likely culprit. This same strain of Hep A was responsible for an outbreak in Europe and one in British Columbia, also in a mixed berry mix containing pomegranate seeds, however, the seeds were from Egypt in those instances.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks in mild cases to several months with more severe cases. Illness occurs within 15 to 50 days of exposure and includes fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine, and pale stool. In rare cases, particularly in patients with pre-existing severe illness or immune compromise, a Hep A infection can progress to liver failure and even death. Persons with underlying liver conditions should be vaccinated; if you have been vaccinated for Hep A in the past you are unlikely to become ill. Hepatitis A vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure to the contaminated product. If you ate this berry mix within the last two weeks, and are not vaccinated, contact your doctor immediately about getting a vaccine.
Hepatitis A contamination usually occurs when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. When Hepatitis A contaminates food products, the infection can be transmitted to those eating the food, but also anyone that only handles the food.
The FDA encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD or consult the FDA website. If you have the berry mix in your freezer, even if no one in your family has been sick (yet?), please throw away the remaining stuff or take it back to Costco for a refund.
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