Federal officials are warning consumers and retailers to throw out a blend of frozen berries from Townsend Farms Inc. because they have been linked to a hepatitis A outbreak that has sickened at least 30 people in five states.
Townsend Farms, Fairview, Ore. — which also markets fresh berries — has not issued a recall for its frozen Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend even though the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued statements that the product is linked to the outbreak.
According to the CDC report, Townsend distributed the frozen berry mix to Costco stores. The CDC and FDA have not determined if the product was distributed elsewhere. Townsend’s website states that the company was an early adopter of the Produce Traceability Initiative and that it can trace every berry it sells back to the farm that grew it.
“Investigation by state health departments, FDA, and CDC is ongoing,” according to the CDC report. “Costco is notifying its members who purchased this product since late February 2013, and has removed this product from its shelves.”
Federal investigators are inspecting the Oregon grower’s operations.
“FDA has begun an inspection of the processing facilities of Townsend Farms,” according to the FDA outbreak report. “The FDA is also developing a protocol to test berries for the Hepatitis A virus (HAV), and will be testing samples related to the outbreak, including the frozen blend for the presence of HAV.”
Telephone lines at Townsend Farms repeated a message that operators were busy on June 3. Attorney William Gaar, who was quoted by various media as saying he represents Townsend Farms, did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
The Townsend product includes pomegranate arils and cherries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Gaar told Oregon media the pomegranate arils came from Turkey. The product label states the contents are sourced from the U.S., Argentina, Chile and Turkey, according to the CDC.
The CDC reports the strain of hepatitis A linked to the Townsend product is identical to that linked to an ongoing outbreak in Europe that began in October 2012 and another 2012 outbreak in British Columbia, Canada.
“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 CDC report.
“Preliminary laboratory studies suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus is genotype 1B. This strain is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in the North Africa and Middle East regions.”
As of May 31 when the federal agencies last updated their investigation reports, nine of the 30 sick people had been admitted to hospitals since the beginning of the outbreak on April 29. The five states involved as of May 31 were Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California.
The CDC is encouraging anyone who ate the Townsend Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend within the past two weeks to check with their doctors to determine if they should get a hepatitis A vaccine because it can be effective for up to two weeks after exposure.