Food

FDA Investigates Multistate Outbreak of Hepatitis A Illnesses Associated with Pomegranate seeds from Turkish Importer

Posted September23, 2013

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Hepatitis A illnesses potentially associated with a frozen food blend. We are moving quickly to learn as much as possible and prevent additional people from becoming ill. We recognize that people will be concerned about this outbreak, and we will continue to provide updates and advice. 

What is the Problem and What is Being Done About It?

The FDA, the CDC, and state and local officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Hepatitis A illnesses potentially associated with Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, a frozen blend containing pomegranate seed mix.

The CDC reports that as of September 20, 2013, 162 people have been confirmed to have become ill with Hepatitis A after eating Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend.  The illnesses have been reported from 10 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Utah, and Wisconsin.  The cases reported from Wisconsin resulted from exposure to the product in California, the cases reported from New Hampshire reported fruit exposure during travel to Nevada, and the case reported in New Jersey was a household contact of a confirmed case from Colorado.

The CDC reports that the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus, belonging to genotype 1B, was found in clinical specimens of 117 people in nine states: AZ, CA, CO, HI, NH, NJ, NM, NV and WI.  This subtype is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East.

On June 4, 2013, Townsend Farms, Inc. of Fairview, Oregon, recalled certain lots of its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, because it has the potential to be contaminated with Hepatitis A virus.  No other Townsend Farms products, frozen or fresh, are covered by this voluntary recall or linked to the illness outbreak at this time.

The product was sold at Costco warehouse stores under the product name Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, 3 lb. bag and UPC 0 78414 404448. The recalled codes are located on the back of the package with the words “BEST BY”; followed by the code T012415 sequentially through T053115, followed by a letter. All of these letter designations are included in this recall for the lot codes listed above.

The product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores from April 19 until May 7, 2013, under the product name Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend, 10 oz. bag and UPC 0 72036 70463 4, with Lot Codes of T041613E or T041613C and a “BEST BY” code of 101614.

On June 28, 2013, Townsend Farms, Inc. expanded its recall to include Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, 3 lb. bag with UPC number 0 78414 40444 8. The recall codes are located on the back of the package with the words “BEST BY” followed by the code T122114 sequentially through T053115, followed by a letter. All letter designations are included in the recall.

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On June 14, 2013, the Jackson County Oregon Health Department warned customers of Evo’s Coffee Lounge, in Ashland, Oregon, that they may have been exposed to Hepatitis A in the coffee shop's "Radically Free" smoothie served between May 17 and June 12, 2013.  The coffee shop used Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend to produce this menu item. The Jackson County Health Department also alerted those who may have been exposed in the last 14 days of the availability of Hepatitis A vaccine in the local area.

On June 19, 2013, the Mendocino County Public Health Department warned customers of A Frame Espresso in Fort Bragg Calif. that they may have been exposed to Hepatitis A in the coffee shop's "Mixed Berry" smoothie served between March 4 and June 8, 2013.  The smoothies may have contained Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend.

On June 26, 2013, Scenic Fruit Company of Gresham, Oregon recalled specific lots of Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels because they have the potential to be contaminated with the Hepatitis A virus.

Woodstock Organic Pomegranate Kernels are sold in eight-ounce (227 gram) resealable plastic pouches (see image) with UPC Code 0 42563 01628 9. Specific coding information to identify the product can be found on the back portion of these pouches below the zip-lock seal. The following lots are subject to this recall:

  1. C 0129 (A,B, or C) 035 with a best by date of 02/04/2015
  2. C 0388 (A,B, or C) 087 with a best by date of 03/28/2015
  3. 0490 (A,B, or C) 109 with a best by date of 04/19/2015

The recalled Scenic Fruit products  were shipped from February 2013 through May 2013 to United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) distribution centers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington State. UNFI distribution centers may have further distributed products to retail stores in other states.

The FDA has finalized a protocol to test berries for the Hepatitis A virus (HAV), and is testing samples related to the outbreak for the presence of HAV.

On June 29, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will detain shipments of pomegranate seeds from Goknur Gida Maddeleri Ithalat Ihracat Tic (Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading) of Turkey when they are offered for import into the United States. There have not been any importations of these products since that time.

By combining information gained from the FDA’s traceback and traceforward investigations and the CDC’s epidemiological investigation, the FDA and CDC have determined that the most likely vehicle for the Hepatitis A virus appears to be a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from Goknur used by Townsend Farms to make the Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blends that were recalled in June.   These seeds were also used by Scenic Fruit Company to make their recently recalled Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels.

The FDA reviewed records and determined that the pomegranate seeds from this shipment were the only ingredient common to all of the recalled Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blend.

FDA worked with the recalling firms that received pomegranate seeds from this shipment from Turkey and continues to oversee the necessary recalls.

As of July 15, 2013, the FDA has placed Goknur Gida Maddeleri Ithalat Ihracat Tic [Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading] of Turkey on two separate Import Alerts (Import Alert 99-23 and Import Alert 99-35).  The epidemiological and trace back evidence developed in this investigation supported placement of pomegranate products produced by Goknur on both alerts. The firm will remain on these import alerts until the FDA has confidence that future shipments will be in compliance. To satisfy the requirements for removal from both Import Alerts, the firm will have to submit documentation to the FDA demonstrating that it has made all relevant corrections to address contamination issues.

The FDA is working closely with the CDC and state and local agencies and will provide updates as soon as they become available.

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What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of an infected person.

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis A?

Illness occurs within 15 to 50 days of exposure and includes fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool.

Who is at Risk?

Hepatitis A is a human disease and usually occurs when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene.  However, food contaminated with HAV, as is suspected in this outbreak, can cause outbreaks of disease among persons who eat or handle food.

In rare cases, particularly in patients with pre-existing severe illness or immune compromise, HAV infection can progress to liver failure and death.  Persons with underlying liver conditions should be vaccinated.

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What is being Recalled?

On June 4, 2013, Townsend Farms, Inc. of Fairview, Oregon, recalled certain lots of its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend on June 4, 2013, because it has the potential to be contaminated with Hepatitis A virus.  No other Townsend Farms products, frozen or fresh, are covered by this voluntary recall or linked to the illness outbreak at this time. The product was sold at Costco warehouse stores under the product name Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, 3 lb. bag and UPC 0 78414 404448. The recalled codes are located on the back of the package with the words “BEST BY”; followed by the code T012415 sequentially through T053115, followed by a letter. All of these letter designations are included in this recall for the lot codes listed above.The product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores from April 19 until May 7, 2013, under the product name Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend, 10 oz. bag and UPC 0 72036 70463 4, with Lot Codes of T041613E or T041613C and a “BEST BY” code of 101614.

On June 28, 2013, Townsend Farms, Inc. expanded its recall to include Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, 3 lb. bag with UPC number 0 78414 40444 8. The recall codes are located on the back of the package with the words “BEST BY” followed by the code T122114 sequentially through T053115, followed by a letter. All letter designations are included in the recall.

On June 26, 2013, Scenic Fruit Company of Gresham, Oregon recalled specific lots of Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels because they have the potential to be contaminated with the Hepatitis A virus.   
Woodstock Organic Pomegranate Kernels are sold in eight-ounce (227 gram) resealable plastic pouches (see image) with UPC Code 0 42563 01628 9. Specific coding information to identify the product can be found on the back portion of these pouches below the zip-lock seal. The following lots are subject to this recall:

  1. C 0129 (A,B, or C) 035 with a best by date of 02/04/2015
  2. C 0388 (A,B, or C) 087 with a best by date of 03/28/2015
  3. C 0490 (A,B, or C) 109 with a best by date of 04/19/2015

The recalled Scenic Fruit products were shipped from February 2013 through May 2013 to United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) distribution centers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington State. UNFI distribution centers may have further distributed products to retail stores in other states.

On June 26, 2013, Scenic Fruit Company of Gresham, Oregon recalled specific lots of Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels because they have the potential to be contaminated with the Hepatitis A virus.

Woodstock Organic Pomegranate Kernels are sold in eight-ounce (227 gram) resealable plastic pouches (see image) with UPC Code 0 42563 01628 9. Specific coding information to identify the product can be found on the back portion of these pouches below the zip-lock seal. The following lots are subject to this recall:

  1. C 0129 (A,B, or C) 035 with a best by date of 02/04/2015
  2. C 0388 (A,B, or C) 087 with a best by date of 03/28/2015
  3. C 0490 (A,B, or C) 109 with a best by date of 04/19/2015

The recalled Scenic Fruit products were shipped from February 2013 through May 2013 to United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) distribution centers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington State. UNFI distribution centers may have further distributed products to retail stores in other states.

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What Do Consumers and Retailers Need To Do?

Consumers should not eat the recalled products and should discard any remaining product from their freezers. Even if some of the product has been eaten without anyone in your home becoming ill, the rest of the product should be discarded.

Retailers and other food service operators should not sell or serve the recalled products.

See the CDC'recommendations concerning vaccination for Hepatitis A in regard to this outbreak here

Who Should be Contacted?

For more information on the Townsend Farms recall, consumers may contact a Townsend Farms Customer Service Representative by phone or e-mail at 1-800-875-5291; townsendfarms5148@stericycle.com.  Customer service representatives will be available Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. PDT to respond to inquiries.

For more information on the Scenic Fruit Company recall, consumers may contact the Scenic Fruit Company at 877-927-3434 or email to info@scenicfruit.com from Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. PDT

For information on Hepatitis A and the vaccine, consumers may call the CDC information line at 1-800-CDC INFO between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern time. 

The FDA encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, or to consult the fda.gov website: www.fda.gov.


The information in this release reflects the FDA’s best efforts to communicate what it has learned from the manufacturer and the state and local public health agencies involved in the investigation. The agency will update this page as more information becomes available. For more information:

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Page Last Updated: 03/27/2014
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