The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that the most likely vehicle for the hepatitis A virus appears to be a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from the Turkish company, Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading, the FDA said in a statement Saturday.
The food company Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., used those pomegranate seeds to make the Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blends that were recalled in June, the FDA said. Those seeds were also used by Scenic Fruit Co. of Gresham, Ore., to make their recently recalled Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels, according to the federal agency.
As of Thursday, 127 people in eight states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wisconsin — were reported to have been exposed to Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, the FDA said. Those reported ill in Wisconsin were exposed to the product in California.
The illnesses date back to mid-March, the CDC has reported. In early June, Townsend Farms recalled its frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, packaged under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at those stores.
The outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus, belonging to genotype 1B, was found in clinical specimens of 56 people in seven states, according to a CDC report. That strain is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East.
"This outbreak highlights the food safety challenge posed by today's global food system," said Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.
"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," Taylor said.