Organic berries linked to hepatitis A outbreak

By Jondi Gumz

Santa Cruz Sentinel

06/04/2013 09:46:01 PM PDT

SANTA CRUZ -- Santa Cruz resident Mark Segelman says his wife and daughter paid $190 for gamma globulin shots after they ate frozen organic berries believed to be part of a recall connected to at least 49 hepatitis A cases in seven states.

Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., late Monday voluntarily recalled its Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend, sold at Costco in 3 pound bags, with a UPC code of 0 78414 404448. Federal officials announced the investigation and the link to the frozen berries Friday.

Visiting Costco two days ago, Segelman checked the section where frozen berries are sold and was surprised there was no customer advisory.

Costco staff told him that since the product recall was not ordered by a federal agency, Costco is going beyond what's required. The product is no longer in the freezer and information has been posted on a list of recalled products in the store.

"It's crazy to me that I have to go hunting for the information," Segelman said. "This is a disease that can cause liver damage or death."

Marin County's public health officer Matt Willis issued an advisory Tuesday, noting Costco advised him 3,148 bags of suspect berries were sold at the Novato store.

Oregon health officials issued an advisory Monday, urging anyone who ate the berries within the past two weeks to get a preventative shot, either hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin.

Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm specializing in food safety,

has filed a class-action lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court representing people who have gotten shots to prevent hepatitis A.Of the 26 cases investigated, three-quarters reported eating the Townsend Farms product and buying it at Costco, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which said 11 people have been hospitalized and the investigation is ongoing.

The hepatitis strain found in two specimens circulates in the North Africa and Middle East regions. The fruit blend included pomegranate seeds from Turkey.
The CDC recommends discarding the product.

Willis told the Marin Independent Journal that Costco is using member information to call people who bought the berries, but Segelman did not get a call because his family got a bag from a friend making "a Costco run."

The Townsend Farms frozen berry blend bears the USDA Organic green seal. According to the California Certified Organic Farmers, based in Santa Cruz, a product labeled organic must contain 95-99 percent organic ingredients by weight.

Whether any local hospitalizations are connected to the frozen berries is unknown, but three hospitalizations linked to the outbreak were reported by neighboring counties.

One was a 22-year-old South Bay woman who has recovered. Another was a 62-year-old woman in Contra Costa County who has recovered. A third was in Alameda County.

Hepatitis A illnesses occur within 15 to 50 days of exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool.

Bay Area News Group staff writer Erin Ivie and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Sentinel reporter Jondi Gumz at
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