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Lawsuits Mount as Hepatitis A Outbreak WidensLawsuits Mount as Hepatitis A Outbreak Widens

June 19, 2013

2 Min Read
Lawsuits Mount as Hepatitis A Outbreak Widens

ATLANTALawsuits are beginning to mount against Townsend Farms and Costco as the number of victims of a multi-state outbreak of hepatitis A linked to frozen berries sold at the wholesaler continue to climb. The latest foodborne illness outbreak once again thrusts the issue of food-safety compliance to the forefront of food and beverage companies quality control checks and balances.

As of June 18, 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 118 people in eight states have been confirmed ill with acute hepatitis A infections and 54 people have been hospitalized from reportedly eating Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, a mix of frozen berries and pomegranate seeds sold at Costco stores.

Townsend Farms already is contending with lawsuits. Most recently, the national food safety law firm of Simon & Luke, with co-counsel Gomez & Iagmin, filed a fifth California lawsuit stemming from the multi-state hepatitis A outbreak. The lawsuit was filed against Townsend Farms and Costco Corp. in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County on behalf of 52-year old Burbank, Calif., resident Greg Patterson.

Recapping The Outbreak

All ill people reported purchasing this product from Costco markets; however, the product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores. No cases have been identified that bought the product at Harris Teeter at this time. The frozen berries were distributed in 12 statesAlaska, Arizona, California Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washingtonhowever, no cases from Alaska, Idaho, Oregon or Montana have been linked to the outbreak at this time.

Preliminary laboratory studies of specimens from two cases suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus (HAV) is genotype 1B. This strain 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.

Costco notified its members who purchased this product since late February 2013, and has removed the Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend" frozen berry and pomegranate mix from its shelves. FDA has begun an inspection of the processing facilities of Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore. The agency also has finalized a protocol to test berries for the hepatitis A virus (HAV), and is testing samples related to the outbreak for the presence of HAV.

According to the label, The Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend frozen berry mix associated with illness contained pomegranate seeds and other produce from the United States, Argentina, Chile and Turkey.

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.

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