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Frozen Berry Blend Sold at Costco Tainted With Hepatitis

A frozen berry blend

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The Food and Drug Administration is investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A linked to a frozen organic berry mix, the Associated Press reports. The fruit blend was sold by an Oregon company to such outlets as your local Costco.

As of last Friday, 30 illnesses had been linked to Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, including infections in California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. The first illnesses were reported at the end of April, and victims range in age from 25 to 71 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

According to the CDC, several of those who fell ill reported buying the berry mix -- consisting of organic cherries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, raspberries and strawberries -- at Costco. A Costco spokesman said the company has removed the product from stores and is attempting to contact customers who purchased it in recent months.

The government has not announced a recall (for God's sake, why not?), but the CDC has recommended that retailers and other food service operators not sell or serve the potentially hepatitis-laden berry blend.

Hepatitis A illness occurs within 15 to 50 days of exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool, and generally feeling like absolute crap. Vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure. Hep A can enter the food supply through infected food handlers with dirty habits, and get to you through the dreaded "fecal-oral route."

While the FDA goes over Townsend Farms' processing plant with a fine-tooth comb, the culprit seems to be pomegranate seeds in the mix from a supplier in Turkey.

Bill Gaar, a lawyer for Townsend Farms, told the AP: "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."

He added that Townsend Farms believes Costco is the only company that bought the product, though they are checking to make sure.

This isn't the first time tainted pomegranate seeds with a strain of hepatitis A native to the Middle East and North Africa have been linked to frozen berry blends. The same genotype of hepatitis A was identified in an outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries earlier this year, the CDC said, as well as to a 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt. Glad someone took the time to clean up the supply chain.

In addition to the United States and Turkey, the agency said the Townsend Farms berry blend also includes fruit from Argentina and Chile.

This is exactly why the hippies say, "Buy local."


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