The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said this weekend it will detain shipments of pomegranate seeds from Goknur Foodstuffs of Turkey in connection with a hepatitis outbreak that has now grown to 127 cases.
The step came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Jun 28 that the hepatitis A outbreak had grown to 127 cases and 55 hospitalizations, up from 122 cases and 54 hospitalizations just 2 days earlier. The number of affected states remained at eight, and no deaths have been reported in the outbreak.
The outbreak has been linked to Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, a frozen mix of berries and pomegranate seeds.
"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," the FDA said in a Jun 29 news release.
Townsend, of Fairview, Ore., used Goknur's pomegranate seeds in its mix sold at Costco stores, as well as in a mix sold as Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blends, although no cases have been linked to the Harris Teeter label.
The seeds were also used by the Scenic Fruit Company of Gresham, Ore., in its Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels, which were recalled on Jun 26. No known cases are linked to that product, either.
"This outbreak highlights the food safety challenge posed by today's global food system," said Michael R. Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, in the FDA release.
"The presence in a single product of multiple ingredients from multiple countries compounds the difficulty of finding the cause of an illness outbreak. The Hepatitis A outbreak shows how we have improved our ability to investigate and respond to outbreaks, but also why we are working to build a food safety system that more effectively prevents them."
In its Jun 28 update, the CDC said that 71 (58%) of the outbreak patients are female, and that ages range from 2 to 84 years, although 74 (61%) are between 40 and 64. Six of the patients are children, none of whom were vaccinated against hepatitis.
Illness-onset dates range from Mar 31 to Jun 15, and all hospitalized patients have been adults, the agency said.
The outbreak strain, found in specimens from 56 patients, belongs to genotype 1B, a subtype rarely seen in the Americas but one that circulates in North Africa and the Middle East.
The genotype was identified in a 2013 outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries and another 2012 outbreak in British Columbia tied to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt.
In related news, Townsend Farms on Jun 28 expanded its recall of the frozen berry blend to additional lots "out of an abundance of caution." The expanded recall involves 3-pound bags of Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend with UPC 0 78414 40444 8.
The company issued its first recall of the berry mix on Jun 4.
Jun 29 FDA news release
Jun 28 CDC update
Jun 28 Townsend Farms expanded recall notice