FDA Investigates Outbreak of Hepatitis A Illnesses Potentially Associated with a Frozen Fruit Blend

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as state and local officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of hepatitis A illnesses potentially associated with a frozen food blend. Townsend Farms, Inc. of Fairview, Ore., has recalled certain lots of its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend on June 3, 2013, because it has the potential to be contaminated with hepatitis A virus. No other Townsend Farms products, frozen or fresh, are covered by this voluntary recall or linked to the illness outbreak at this time.

The product was sold at Costco warehouse stores under the product name Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, 3 lb. bag and UPC 0 78414 404448. The recalled codes are located on the back of the package with the words BEST BY, followed by the code T012415 sequentially through T053115, followed by a letter. All of these letter designations are included in this recall for the lot codes listed above.

The product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores from April 19 until May 7, 2013, under the product name Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend3, 10 oz. bag and UPC 0 72036 70463 4, with Lot Codes of T041613E or T041613C and a BEST BY code of 101614.
The FDA provides the following Q&A:

Q: What is the Problem and What is Being Done About It?

A: The FDA, the CDC, and state and local officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Hepatitis A illnesses potentially associated with Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, a frozen blend containing pomegranate seed mix. As of June 4, 2013, 49 people infected with Hepatitis A have been reported from 7 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. Through interviews with ill patients, the CDC has reported that 19 of 25 patients interviewed thus far recalled eating Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend. The FDA has begun an inspection of the processing facilities of Townsend Farms of Fairview, Oregon. The FDA is also finalizing 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.  The FDA is working closely with the CDC and state and local agencies and will provide updates as soon as they become available. 

Q: What is Hepatitis A?
A: Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter even in microscopic amounts from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of an infected person.

Q: What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis A?
A: Illness occurs within 15 to 50 days of exposure and includes fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool.

Q: Who is at Risk?
Hepatitis A is a human disease and usually occurs when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene.  However, food contaminated with HAV, as is suspected in this outbreak, can cause outbreaks of disease among persons who eat or handle food. In rare cases, particularly in patients with pre-existing severe illness or immune compromise, HAV infection can progress to liver failure and death.  Persons with underlying liver conditions should be vaccinated.

Q: What Do Consumers and Retailers Need To Do?
A: Consumers should not eat the recalled products and should discard any remaining product from their freezers. Even if some of the product has been eaten without anyone in your home becoming ill, the rest of the product should be discarded. The CDC recommends that if you consumed this product in the last two weeks and have never been vaccinated for hepatitis A, contact your health care provider to find out if you should be vaccinated.  The hepatitis A vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure to the contaminated product.  If you dont have a health care provider (usually your doctor) contact your health department. You can find health department contact information at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/international/relres.html/. If you have already received the Hepatitis A vaccination in the past, you are unlikely to become ill with the disease. Retailers and other food service operators should not sell or serve the recalled products.
Q: Who Should be Contacted?
A: For more information on the recall, consumers may contact a Townsend Farms Customer Service Representative by phone or e-mail at 1-800-875-5291; townsendfarms5148@stericycle.com.  Customer service representatives will be available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. PDT to respond to inquiries. For information on hepatitis A and the vaccine, consumers may call the CDC information line at 1-800-CDC INFO between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern time. The FDA encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, or to consult the fda.gov website:www.fda.gov/.