Thirty people have been infected with Hepatitis A, and nine of them hospitalized, in an outbreak across five states traced to an organic frozen berry mix sold at Costco.
And health officials are bracing for more cases if cafes and restaurants that bought the frozen blend used it to make smoothies, frozen bar drinks and other desserts for customers.
The Food and Drug Administration and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked the reported illnesses to Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, a mix of berries and pomegranate seeds produced by Townsend Farms in Oregon.
The first victim got sick on April 29 with the most recent case reported on May 17, although USA Today reports more are expected.
The victims, aged between 25 and 71 years old, live in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California.
About 11 of 17 of those infected said they bought the berry mix at Costco, according to CNN.
A Costco spokesman said that the company has removed the product from stores and is attempting to contact members who purchased the product in recent months.
Townsend Farms lawyer Bill Gaar said the frozen organic blend bag included pomegranate seeds sourced from Turkey, and were only used in the product associated with the outbreak.
‘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,’ Mr Gaar said.
He said Townsend Farms believes Costco is the only customer who bought the product but are checking to see if any other retailers also sold it.
The outbreak has been traced to a type of pomegranate seeds from Turkey that are in the Townsend Farms fruit mix, Gaar said. The mix contains pomegranate seeds and other produce from Argentina, Chile and the United States, according to the label.
“There is no indication that cherries and other berries are contaminated,” Gaar said.
State health departments, the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC continue to investigate. The company was notified about the outbreak back in May by the CDC, which sent investigators to the Townsend Farms processing plant in Fairview, Oregon, Gaar said.
Hepatitis A is usually transmitted via contaminated food or water, or by someone who’s infected, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Frequent hand-washing is recommended to limit the spread of hepatitis A.
The highly contagious infection inflames the liver and limits its ability to function.
“Mild cases of hepatitis A don’t require treatment, and most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage,” the Mayo Clinic website says.
Severe cases can lead to liver failure and death, according to the World Health Organization.
There are an estimated 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A annually worldwide, according to WHO.