Judging from Saturday’s action linking Goknur Foodstuffs to a hepatitis A outbreak and detaining further shipments, the Food and Drug Administration has made progress toward its goal of improving investigation and outbreak response. FDA is actively working to build a food safety system that more effectively prevents such food safety threats.
Source of the virus
The Centers for Disease Control and state and local health authorities worked with FDA for several weeks to trace the source of the genotype 1B hepatitis A, which has so far sickened at least 127 people in 8 states (half in California, almost all in the Southwest–see map). The market withdrawal is especially important because it concerns frozen fruit, which has a far longer lifetime than fresh.
Hepatitis A is a liver disease that ranges from mild to severe. It lasts from a few weeks to several months and does not result in chronic infection or chronic liver disease, though symptoms may relapse during the 6 months after acute illness (10-15% likelihood). The symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool. They occur from two weeks to two months after exposure to the disease.
Rare in the U.S., the strain involved here circulates in North Africa and the Middle East. Fortunately, countries like India, Iran, China, and Thailand well exceed Turkey in providing pomegranate to the U.S. market.
The virus appears to have entered the country through a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading of Turkey. Townsend Farms (Fairview, Oregon) used the seeds to make Organic Antioxidant Blend. Costco and Harris Teeter stores sell this mix of frozen berries. Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels has also recalled its product out of caution.
Characteristics of the outbreak
More women than men have become ill (almost 60-40%). The outbreak has struck all ages. Six unvaccinated teens and children under the age of 18 fell ill. More than half of those sickened by the seeds required hospitalization. (Note: the two cases reported in Wisconsin resulted from exposure to the product in California.) The first cases started appearing in March 2013.
On June 3, Townsend Farms voluntarily recalled more than 300,000 packages of frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, sold at Costco, after learning that one of the ingredients may be linked to an illness outbreak outside the United States. American cases were then identified. Harris Teeter (Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend) and Scenic Fruits Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels were also recalled as a precaution. Check the notice links here for UPC codes, lot numbers, and “Best by” dates affected.
If you have been exposed…
If you have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus from the tainted fruit, you may be able to prevent the disease with a vaccine. If you think you have eaten the recalled seeds within the past two weeks of consuming them or have hepatitis A symptoms, see your healthcare provider or local health department.
Award-winning science writer Sandy Dechert covers environmental, health, and energy policy and issues. Involved in the health field since the late 1980s, she has followed the creation and progress of medical legislation over the past two decades. Her recent top health stories include reports on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the morning-after pill, and the A(H7N9) China avian flu and MERS outbreaks.
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