An Oregon company is recalling a frozen berry mix sold to Costco and Harris Teeter stores after the product was linked to at least 34 hepatitis A illnesses in five states.
The Food and Drug Administration says that Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., is recalling its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, packaged under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at those stores.
Illnesses were reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. Hawaii health officials are also investigating three cases of hepatitis A in people who have eaten the frozen berry product.
The recall came three days after the FDA and the federal Centers for Disease Control first announced a suspected link between the berries and the illnesses. The agency did not say why there was not an immediate recall. Costco has stores across the country, while Harris Teeter stores are in eight East Coast states and the District of Columbia.
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 FDA says it is inspecting the processing facilities of Townsend Farms. The CDC says 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, says last week that the frozen organic blend bag includes pomegranate seeds from Turkey. The seeds are only used in the product associated with the outbreak and no other Townsend Farms products, he says.
"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 says.
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 says 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 says, 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 says 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.