Contaminated Costco berries cause hepatitis outbreak

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Costco, Hep B, food contamination

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(NaturalNews) As food production becomes more "industrialized" and genetically modified, all in an attempt to mass produce agricultural products in a way that maximizes profits but puts people at risk, incidents of food causing harm are increasing.

Much of the world's food production, in the name of globalization, has shifted to second- and third-world economies - again, to cut labor costs and maximize profits - and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently been investigating one reason why turning over food product to poor economies with little oversight is foolish and risky.

Fox News Health reported recently that the FDA is currently looking into an outbreak of hepatitis A which officials believe is linked to a frozen organic berry mix sold by a company in Oregon.

Both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said June 14 that at least 30 people have been sickened due to consumption of Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, a product that contains pomegranate seed mix. The agencies said consumers in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California were affected.

Per Fox News Health:

Several of those who fell ill reported buying the berry mix at Costco, according to CDC. A Costco spokesman said Friday that the company has removed the product from stores and is attempting to contact members who purchased the product since late February.

This strain of Hep A common to Middle East, North Africa

For those who aren't familiar with hepatitis A, it is an extremely contagious liver disease that can last for as little as a few weeks or as long as several months. It is often transmitted by infected food handlers who engage in food preparation without using proper hand hygiene. Also, food that has been contaminated with the Hep A virus can spread the disease and cause outbreaks.

There are other strains of hepatitis - B and C - which also affect the liver but in varying degrees. The viral strains of B and C are generally spread through blood and body fluids.

So far, no federal agency has issued a recall but officials at CDC said they recommend retailers and food service operators not sell or serve Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend.

According to CDC officials, nine of the people who have been sickened by the affected mix have been hospitalized. Fox News Health said that preliminary testing indicates that the particular Hep A virus strain doctors have identified is rarely seen in North America. Rather, it is most commonly found in regions of the Middle East and in North Africa.

The FDA says it is inspecting production facilities at Townsend Farms, which is located in Fairview, Ore. Bill Gaar, a lawyer for the company, said the frozen organic concoction includes some pomegranate seeds from Turkey, and that they are the only seeds used in the mix that has been identified with the outbreak.

"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 said.

He added that he thinks Costco is the only client who purchased the tainted product, but he said Townsend is checking to see if other retailers may also have sold it.

Per the Hepatitis Foundation International, a clearinghouse organization offering information about the disease:

Hepatitis A is the most common of the two enterically (relating to, or being within the intestine) transmitted hepatitis viruses (hepatitis A virus and hepatitis E virus) in the U.S. and is one of the two vaccine-preventable hepatitis infections (hepatitis A and B). In children the infection is usually mild and without symptoms. However, in adults the severity generally increases with increasing age. Nonetheless, full recovery is expected in about 99% of all infections. HAV infection usually resolves on its own over several weeks, but occasionally relapses occur. Hepatitis A does not lead to chronic hepatitis.

Turkey, Egypt, Chile, Argentina...

Illness from the disease can take place anywhere between two weeks and 50 days following exposure to the virus. "Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool," Fox News Health reported, adding that, according to the CDC, all of the outbreak victims are older than 18 (the range is 25-71).

The agency reported that the same genotype of Hep A was identified in a European outbreak that was also related to frozen berries earlier this year, as well as an outbreak in 2012 in British Columbia that was linked to frozen berry blend with Egyptian pomegranate seeds.

"In addition to the United States and Turkey, the agency said the Townsend Farms berries also included products from Argentina and Chile," said Fox News Health.

Truth be told, pomegranate is a wonderful food and is rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols, tannins, and anthocyanins. But it has to be properly grown, processed and shipped for those benefits to be realized; some countries, obviously, don't have the means to ensure that happens.

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