Outbreak of Hepatitis A From Frozen Berries at Costco

Close up of frozen mixed fruit  - berries - red currant, cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, bilberry, blueberry, black currant

A berry producer that sells products to various stores, including Costco, has issued a recall of its frozen berry mix after it was linked to hepatitis A. As of June 3, 34 cases of hepatitis A have been linked to Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries, which consists of frozen berries and pomegranate seeds. Cases have been noted in several states, including California, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

The CDC reports that the first cases of hepatitis A were diagnosed in late April, which has continued until the most recent case appeared around May 21. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has been holding clinics over the weekend for consumers of the berries to assess if they had contracted hepatitis. Seven of the 34 cases were in California.

The strain of the hepatitis A, genotype 1B, is rarely seen in the Americas, according to the CDC, but it “circulates in North Africa and Middle East regions.” This strain is also responsible for a 2013 hepatitis A outbreak in British Columbia after a frozen berry blend contained pomegranate seeds from Egypt. The Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant blend claims to use pomegranate seeds and other produce from the US, Argentina, Chile and Turkey. It’s possible the virus came from a batch of seeds that came from abroad, but investigators are still assessing their origin.

Hepatitis A is one of several hepatitis viruses that attacks the liver. It’s spreads via fruit and other food products if they aren’t washed properly or if the preparer has poor hand hygiene. It can also spread when a caregiver doesn’t wash his or her hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person. Those infected with hepatitis A may experience yellowing eyes or skin (also known as jaundice), fatigue, fever, appetite loss or grey-colored stools.

This outbreak wouldn’t be the only hepatitis A foodborne outbreak. In February 1997, 213 people were infected with hepatitis A from frozen strawberries served in schools in Michigan and Maine. In 1998, 43 people were infected with hepatitis a after consuming green onions served in an Ohio restaurant. Another green onions hepatitis A outbreak occurred in 2003 – this time at a Pennsylvania restaurant.

Since the late 1990s, children have been given the hepatitis A vaccinewhen the turn one year old. However, for adults born before then, the vaccine is only recommended for those at increased risk, including those traveling internationally to countries with high rates of hepatitis A. The vaccine is given as a series of two shots 6 to 12 months apart, and protection is proven to last at least 15 years, with a possibility to last 25 years.

In addition to getting a vaccine, you should also frequently wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food or eating food.

Learn more about hepatitis A.