When Lynda Brackenridge purchased frozen organic berries from her local Costco, she thought she was buying a healthier choice.
It turned out that the Townsend Farms berries were contaminated and Brackenridge suffered the worst kind of nightmare when she was stricken with Hepatitis A as a direct result of eating those berries.
Brackenridge was one of 49 people infected in a span of seven states due to the Hepatitis A outbreak. Brackenridge and 10 other people were hospitalized.
On June 4, Townsend Farms, the producer of the berries, recalled the berry blend on its own volition and the FDA posted the press release announcement of the recall on its website. (1)
The CDC posted an update on June 17, 2013:
“As of June 14, 2013, we are investigating acute hepatitis A illnesses in 106 people in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington.” (2)
50% of those ill have been hospitalized. Out of 94 of the people who became ill, 76 (81%) reported that they’d eaten the frozen berry and pomegranate mix “Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend”. (2)
Although the product was also sold in Harris Teeter stores, only those customers from Costco have been identified as sick.
Pomegranates from Turkey Possible Culprit
The CDC reports based on the preliminary laboratory studies from five states that the strain outbreak belongs to the genotype 1B hepatitis A virus (HAV). This strain is very rarely seen in North or South America but is commonly found in North Africa and the Middle East.
The pomegranate seeds that were added to the berry blend originated in Turkey and are suspected of being the culprit for the current outbreak.
In 2013, a similar outbreak in Europe was linked to frozen berries. And in 2012, an outbreak in British Columbia was identified as being caused by a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt. The CDC warns that currently there is “no evidence at this time that these outbreaks are related to the current US outbreak”. (2)
The Evils of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A, a liver infection, is highly contagious. It is easily spread when “an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene”.
Fecal to oral transference is the most common mode of passing on the infection either through food, water or objects handled by the infected person. Poor sanitation is the ultimate culprit for the infection spreading from one person to another. (2)
A person exposed to hepatitis A will become ill within 15 to 50 days of exposure.
–> Abdominal pain
–> Abnormal liver tests
–> Dark urine
–> Pale stools
One out of 200 patients infected with Hepatitis A dies. The CDC has no reports of any deaths in those sickened from eating the berry blend from Townsend Farms.
The good news is that there is a vaccination available that can prevent illness. It is effective as long as it’s administered within two weeks of exposure.
The CDC states that anyone vaccinated against hepatitis in preparation for overseas travel should be immune to the danger of contracting the disease if they consumed the infected berries.
There are two types of shots available, the vaccine or immune globulin (IG). An immune globulin is made of blood plasma that contains antibodies of the disease. Which one administered depends on your age and current health status.
–> Hepatitis A vaccine: 12 months to 40 years old should receive.
–> Immune Globulin (IG): Older than 40 years of age and younger than 12 months of age.
If the immune globulin is unavailable, the Hepatitis A vaccine can be given in its place. The immune globulin is passive and introduces the antibodies directly into the bloodstream to fight the invading infection while vaccines are active and stimulate the body’s immune system to fight off infections. (3)
The areas where this strain of hepatitis is commonly found are developing countries and children are usually exposed to the virus at an early age and develop a lifelong immunity. Children tested positive, yet “no clinical signs and symptoms were seen in over 90% of the infected children”. (2)
Should You Buy Only Locally Grown Food?
It’s always ideal to know where and how your food is grown, but in a world of global trading, you can easily buy what you believe to be regionally grown food only to discover that all or part of the food comes from outside the US.
This might not be a fail-safe approach since the FDA reports that “approximately 1.5 out of 100,000 people in the U.S. have Hepatitis A (Ref.47)” and estimates that an “average .002 percent (1.5/100,000) of farm workers have Hepatitis A”. (3)
A 2008 study conducted in Monterey County, California revealed 9 percent of workers, washed their hands before work, and 75 percent of workers washed their hands after using the toilet (Ref.48).
Reducing your risks from the food you eat, may be a better strategy. Consider shopping at your local farmer’s market or join a local food co-op. At a farmer’s market you can talk to the actual growers and find out what practices they use in growing their foods.
Organic growers will display the certified organic food label, but don’t discount backyard growers who aren’t certified organic. Many backyard organic growers simply wish to sell their harvest excess and don’t view certification as cost or time effective.
These growers can be great finds for your fresh organic food purchases along with larger certified organic growers.
The farm to table concept is ancient and is undergoing a revitalization in the wake of GMO and big Agra food productions.
With the latest wave of recalled produce due to E. coli and hepatitis outbreaks, many people have discovered the value of buying locally grown produce, fruit and berries in support of these home-town growers.