WASHINGTON - An Oregon company is recalling a frozen berry mix sold to Costco and Harris Teeter stores after the product has been linked to at least 49 hepatitis A illnesses in seven states.
The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., is recalling its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, packaged under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at those stores.
Also Tuesday, the federal Centers for Disease Control said the illness count has risen from 34 to 49 people. Illnesses were reported last week in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California, and the CDC said that there are additional illnesses reported in Hawaii and Utah. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said 12 of the cases are in that state.
The recall came three days after the FDA and the CDC first announced a suspected link between the berries and the illnesses. The agency did not say why there was not an immediate recall.
Costco has stores across the country, while Harris Teeter stores are in eight East Coast states and the District of Columbia. Both grocery chains said they have pulled the product from store shelves.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks to a several months. People can contract it when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. The CDC said that food already contaminated with the virus can also cause outbreaks, as is suspected in this case.
The FDA said it is inspecting the processing facilities of Townsend Farms. The CDC said the strain of hepatitis is rarely seen in North or South America but is found in the North Africa and Middle East regions.
Bill Gaar, a lawyer for Townsend Farms, said last week that the frozen organic blend bag includes pomegranate seeds from Turkey. The seeds are only used in the product associated with the outbreak and no other Townsend Farms products, he said.
"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.
CDC said the first illnesses were reported at the end of April. The same genotype of hepatitis A was identified in an outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries this year, the CDC said, as well as a 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt. The agency said the Townsend Farms berries included products from Argentina and Chile in addition to the United States and Turkey.