June 6, 2013 at 12:25 PM ET
More than 60 people in seven states are now sick with acute hepatitis A infections linked to a contaminated frozen berry and pomegranate mix sold widely at Costco and Harrison Teeter stores.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Infection say the numbers could change -- meaning rise -- as the ongoing investigation into Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend continues.
At least 11 people have been hospitalized in the outbreak, which includes victims in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Victims range in age from 2 to 71, with illnesses reported between April 29 and May 27.
Lab tests of specimens from two states indicate that the outbreak strain of hepatitis A is rarely seen in the U.S., but circulates widely in North Africa and the Middle East.
The suspect culprit in the fruit mix may be pomegranate seeds processed in Turkey, Townsend Farms officials indicated. The fruit mix also includes produce from the U.S., Argentina and Chile, according to the ingredients.
Several people who came down with acute hepatitis A, a liver infection, have filed lawsuits against Townsend Farms and Costco already. Others are joining a class action lawsuit involving people who ate the potentially contaminated fruit and then got immune globulin or hepatitis A shots to prevent illness.
Nearly three-quarters of victims interviewed reported eating the blend from the Fairview, Ore., firm, the CDC said. The product was sold starting in late February at Costco stores and at Harris Teeter stores from April 19 to May 7. People who ate the frozen berry mix may be able to avoid illness by getting the shots within two weeks of consumption.
Townsend Farms has recalled certain lots of its frozen organic antioxidant blend. For a list of products and codes, click here.
Hepatitis A is caused when people ingest even minute amounts of feces. It’s typically caused when an infected food handler prepares food without using appropriate hand hygiene. But food itself can also become contaminated, which is suspected in this outbreak.
Consumers who still have product in their freezers should discard it and contact Townsend Farms at 1-800-875-5291 or firstname.lastname@example.org.