June 18, 2018

Hepatitis A Strain in Costco Townsend Farm Berries Found in Middle East

The CDC states that the hepatitis A strain associated with Townsend Farms Anti-oxidant Blend Frozen Berry Mix sold at Costco is rare in the United States. The strain is usually found in North Africa and the Middle East.

The berry mix contains strawberries, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and pomegrnate seeds (also called arils). The fruit was grown in the U.S., Argentina, Chile, and Turkey. The attorney for Townsend Farms has stated that the pomegranate seeds may be the causal agent in this hepatitis A outbreak. They were sourced from Turkey, which is in the Middle East and is considered part of North Africa.

This raises the question about imported food safety. This particular genotype of hepatitis A was linked to an outbreak in Europe in 2013 and an outbreak in British Columbia in 2012 caused by a frozen berry blend made with pomegranate seeds grown in Egypt. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 was intended to protect Americans from contaminated imported food.

But one of the rules mandated in that Act, the “Information Required in Prior Notice of Imported Food” was only finalized on May 30, 2013. The product in question was sold by Costco, and perhaps other retailers, beginning February 2013. That particular rule states that if a product was refused entry into another country for any reason, an importer must tell the U.S. government about that refusal. Several critical FSMA rules have been stalled at the Office of Management and Budget for more than a year, including the foreign supplier verification program.

For information about what you should do if you purchased this product, see the FDA recommendations. You’ll find specific advice about contacting your health care provider and discarding product.

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