A hepatitis A outbreak linked to a recalled organic berry mix from Townsend Farms Inc. has spread to eight states, sickening 87 people, with 36 admitted to hospitals.
Updated information posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention included details from interviews with 68 of the patients, which showed 70% of them reported consuming the Organic Antioxidant Blend of frozen berries from Townsend Farms Inc., Fairview, Ore.
The CDC reported the outbreak began earlier than initially thought, with illness onsets dating back to at least as early as March 16 instead of April 29. Illnesses have been reported in Arizona, California Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington.
The Food and Drug Administration is investigating and inspecting the Townsend operation and is finalizing a test to check the facilities and product for hepatitis A.
Townsend recalled the frozen organic mixed berries June 3 via the FDA website. The mixed product includes strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries and pomegranate arils.
“Townsend Farms is implementing this voluntary recall after learning that one of the ingredients of the frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, pomegranate seeds processed in Turkey, may be linked to an illness outbreak outside of the United States,” according to the recall.
The company sent the product to Costco and Harris Teeter. Both chains removed product from their stores before Townsend issued its recall, company officials said.
Costco officials said they sold about 330,000 bags of the berry mix from February until they pulled the product. A Harris Teeter spokeswoman said she did not know the volume that chain had sold.
The CDC reported preliminary laboratory studies of specimens from two states suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus is genotype 1B, which 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. However, there is no evidence at this time that these outbreaks are related, according to the CDC.
According to the label, the “Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend” frozen berry and pomegranate mix associated with illness contained products originating from the U.S., Argentina, Chile, and Turkey.