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Three Hawaii hepatitis cases now linked to Costco berries

The product was pulled from Costco shelves on Wednesday

By Michael Tsai

LAST UPDATED: 01:23 a.m. HST, Jun 04, 2013

The state Health Department now says three Hawaii residents — two on Oahu and one on Kauai — have been diagnosed with hepatitis A that may be linked to a frozen organic berry mix that was pulled from Costco shelves on Wednesday.

All are adults, Health Department officials said Monday. The residents, who became ill in early to late May, are recovering or have recovered, the state said. One required brief hospitalization.

The state earlier said it was aware of two cases.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously linked 30 hepatitis A illnesses in five western states to Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, which is believed to contain a tainted pomegranate seed mix. Nine of the reported cases resulted in hospitalization, according to the CDC. The earliest illness report dates back to April 29.

Costco is contacting customers who bought the product since late February.

A Costco representative told the Hawaii Health Department that the company voluntarily pulled the product from its shelves in all Hawaii stores on May 29 and 30, the department said. The public is advised to discard or return any remaining product.

“Hepatitis A infection is a vaccine preventable disease, and fortunately, most children and adolescents have been vaccinated as part of routine childhood vaccination recommendations,” said Dr. Sarah Park, Hawaii epidemiologist. “However, many adults have not been vaccinated and will be susceptible.”

A Townsend Farms representative told the Associated Press that the company is checking to see if any other retailer besides Costco may have distributed the product.

According to the CDC, preliminary laboratory studies of specimens from two cases suggest the outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus is genotype 1B, a strain is rarely seen in the Americas but known to circulate in the North Africa and Middle East regions.

This genotype was identified in a 2013 outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries and another 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt, the CDC said.

According to the label, the Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant Blend frozen berry mix associated with illness contained pomegranate seeds and other produce from the U.S., Argentina, Chile and Turkey.

Illness from hepatitis A infection occurs within 15 to 50 days of exposure and symptoms can include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and a pale stool.

The CDC is advising the public not to eat Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend and to discard any remaining product.

The Hawaii Department of Health asks people to report suspected cases of hepatitis A infection to the department at 586-4586.


For more information regarding the multistate outbreak, go to www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/Outbreaks/2013/A1b-03-31/index.html.  

For more information regarding hepatitis A, go to http://hawaii.gov/health/DOCD/DIB/HepatitisA.html.  

For a list of pharmacies that provide hepatitis A vaccine, go to http://hawaii.gov/health/Immunization/Documents/AdultVaxResourceList.pdf.

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kailua000 wrote:
yep, that healthy food will kill you.
on June 2,2013 | 09:54PM
Anonymous wrote:
Costco was sampling the product in their stores. What is Costco doing for their members and guests who consumed the berry samples? A large majority of their membership could be affected...
on June 3,2013 | 06:20AM
mitt_grund wrote:
Agree. Did the Costco food samplers hand that product out as free samples? Cause for worry if you were one of the customers getting a taste. Will Costco pay for medical tests? For that matter, will they check to see if samples were handed out and act accordingly?
on June 3,2013 | 07:10AM
aomohoa wrote:
Give me a break. If you are a Costco member you love sampling. Costco is one of the best companies out there. The second they find out about a problem they notify members that bought the product. Do you know any other store that could or would do that? NO
on June 3,2013 | 08:35AM
allie wrote:
true..and they pay their local workers good wages and pay benefits.
on June 3,2013 | 10:14AM
aomohoa wrote:
Wow, I agree with you allie. They bring a lot to these Islands and all 4 on Oahu are always busy. The one in town is the busiest in the nation. They provide good jobs and good products for a good price.
on June 3,2013 | 10:39AM
allie wrote:
totally agree. COSTCO is a gem for Hawaii. Look at their employees and notice how genuinely happy they are. Compare that to Safeway. I say pay local workers fair wages and benefits, train them, encourage them and just watch as Hawaii's workers do as well or better than any workers anywhere.
on June 3,2013 | 11:01AM
aomohoa wrote:
Hey the people that work at our beautiful new Safeway in Ewa Beach are also very nice.
on June 3,2013 | 03:58PM
Heinbear wrote:
The Kapahulu Safeway workers appear happy, too!
on June 4,2013 | 06:02AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Happy workers equal happy customers.
on June 4,2013 | 10:45AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Yes. That fact that this news is out there proves that the word did get around. Everyone did their job.
on June 4,2013 | 10:45AM
mikethenovice wrote:
That fact that only three people were affected among all that sampling could mean that the food is safe after all.
on June 4,2013 | 10:43AM
HIE wrote:
This article is misleading, as the recalled berries are frozen whole berries, not a drink. Although, not stated in this article, the berries may have been bought wholesale by a retailer who used them to make and sell smoothies/drinks. However, the product that was being sold in Costco is not a drink.
on June 2,2013 | 10:01PM
niimi wrote:
And Sams Club sells Townsend Farms NON-ORGANIC berries.
on June 2,2013 | 10:56PM
mikethenovice wrote:
Could be that the three that got sick were already infected from another source.
on June 4,2013 | 10:46AM
BluesBreaker wrote:
Let's all run down to Whole Foods and get some organic berries!!!
on June 2,2013 | 10:23PM
lynnh wrote:
Had it been GMO it would have been safe!
on June 2,2013 | 10:27PM
niimi wrote:
Monsanto and DuPont, yeah, BABY!
on June 2,2013 | 10:55PM
BluesBreaker wrote:
They've never had an incidence of E. coli or Hepatitis A, which is more than the organic industry can claim.
on June 3,2013 | 09:20AM
hilocal wrote:
BluesBreaker, that's because organic products are LABELED. GE/GMO products aren't labeled, so when you get E coli or Hep A, you don't know if what you ate was Genetically Engineered.
on June 4,2013 | 06:08AM
Giligan wrote:
Go GMO Go!
on June 4,2013 | 07:27AM
niimi wrote:
I'll take the pesticides.
on June 2,2013 | 10:55PM
Ronin006 wrote:
This is what happens when organic crops are fertilized with organic fertilizers which include human waste.
on June 3,2013 | 03:59AM
RichardCory wrote:
Sure, and that's why these outbreaks happen all the time when people eat organic food. Oh, wait, no, that doesn't happen, my bad.
on June 3,2013 | 05:51AM
kauaik wrote:
There have been numerous events with major food born illnesses even resulting in multiple deaths and the have all been associated with organic crops. I'm not against organic but I do feel conventional and GE crops are safer.
on June 3,2013 | 06:36AM
maunalii wrote:
That is NOT true. ALL food born illnesses resulting in death have not been associated with organic crops. Take a look at the Jack in the Box incident with the tainted meat - not organic. That is just to start. This link provides a more educated resource -http://www.foodborneillness.com/hepatitis_food_poisoning. Notice it does not state that all deaths related to food borne illnesses are from organic produce. It is also important to know that these berries came from several different countries, some of which probably do not practice safe food handling. Buy local and know your farmers.
on June 3,2013 | 07:24AM
aomohoa wrote:
These were frozen berries. Local farmers don't sell frozen berries.LOL I buy local but you can't get everything you need or want. That is why we need to grow more variety here.
on June 3,2013 | 08:38AM
maunalii wrote:
LOL. No farmer sells frozen produce!
on June 3,2013 | 09:11AM
BluesBreaker wrote:
Remember the case of the two people on the Big Island who were eaten locally grown lettuce and contracted rat lung worm? I'll stick to conventional and GMO, thanks.
on June 3,2013 | 09:23AM
maunalii wrote:
Was that produce sold in the stores or did these people grow their own food and then consume it? Rat lung worm is preventable. "According to UH snail researcher Rob Cowie, it is when people touch or eat raw snails or slugs or their “slime trails” that the threat to human health occurs." Proper food handling is important. Considering that the major crops of GMO are corn, canola, cotton and soy and are in over 80% of processed foods, are we to assume that processed foods are safer to eat than fresh produce and whole foods?
on June 3,2013 | 10:06AM
Dragonman wrote:
The two people that got sick ate the tainted lettuce that they grew in their own backyard gardens.
on June 3,2013 | 05:21PM
mikethenovice wrote:
From ingesting snails, the vegetable itself is safe.
on June 4,2013 | 10:51AM
hilocal wrote:
aomohoa, right on! We need to grow more variety and more produce locally.
on June 4,2013 | 06:11AM
BluesBreaker wrote:
Meat is not a crop.
on June 3,2013 | 09:21AM
maunalii wrote:
No meat is not a crop but if you look at some of the cases of e coli out breaks, the source has been traced back to farms with animals infected with e coli. E coli in fresh fruits and vegetables is a result of cross contamination. For Hepatitis A, read the following: http://www.foodborneillness.com/hepatitis_food_poisoning. This is also important: "The suggestion seems to be that the use of manure on organic farms causes a heightened risk of an E. coli outbreak, because E. coli is know to originate in animal intestines. This is wrong for a number of reasons. First of all, non-organic farms also use manure, but they are not regulated to the same degree. In fact, the federal regulation concerning the use of manure on organic farms is the strictest of its kind (3). It requires, for instance, that manure on organic farms be composted long enough to kill all bacteria. It comes as no surprise then that a study conducted at the University of Minnesota in 2004 concluded that organic produce was no more likely to be contaminated by E. coli than non-organic produce (4). Moreover, of all sprout recalls in the U.S. over the last two and a half years, ninety percent have come from non-organic farms (5)."
on June 3,2013 | 10:17AM
hilocal wrote:
maunalii, thanks for the info.
on June 4,2013 | 06:14AM
jess wrote:
To each their own. I would prefer to not eat pesticides or GMO, but right now it's hard to tell because producers are against labeling. The E Coli outbreak with spinach a few years ago wasn't with strictly organic produce. This strain of Hepatitis is more prevalent in the Middle East, the pomegranates came from Turkey. Improper food handling can happen anywhere with organic or conventional crops. Whether you're eating at a restaurant or growing your own food there's always a slight chance you'll get sick. That's a risk we all take daily.
on June 3,2013 | 01:28PM
mikethenovice wrote:
The weak and elderly don't have a second chance when they get sick.
on June 4,2013 | 10:52AM
allie wrote:
Your name has a poetic resonance.
on June 3,2013 | 11:02AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Organic is the way the crop was cared for until the time of harvest. The germs enter after the harvest and the handling process begins..
on June 4,2013 | 10:49AM
BaxterCooper wrote:
Based on more detailed reports than the SA included in this article, it was determined that the variety of HepA in the cases reported thus far is not typical in North America and is more readily found in the Middle East. This pointed investigators to the pomegranate seeds in this mix which were acquired from Turkey. Spreading misinformation to further some personnel agenda is not helpful.
on June 3,2013 | 09:11AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Semen is human waste?
on June 4,2013 | 10:47AM
dyw001 wrote:
Darn! I bought a bag last week and made a smoothie from it. What do I do now? Do I need to see my doctor?
on June 3,2013 | 06:42AM
xxNOTxx wrote:
You should notify your Dr and get a blood test ASAP.
on June 3,2013 | 04:08PM
mikethenovice wrote:
See the doctor only if you got ill. Go and return it where you bought it from.
on June 4,2013 | 10:53AM
loquaciousone wrote:
I wonder if people know what kind of fertilizer they use in organic gardens?
on June 3,2013 | 07:12AM
maunalii wrote:
Not all organic farmers use fertilizer. We have been organically growing produce for over 60 years within our family. Not one case of food borne illness. Buy local, buy what is in season and know your farmers.
on June 3,2013 | 07:29AM
BluesBreaker wrote:
There are some 30 chemicals (e.g., copper sulfate) that are used by organic farmers. There is little control over their use or field inspections or monitoring to ensure they follow label directions. Conventional farmers and seed companies have certified and trained technicians applying pesticides safely. Most use integrated pest management programs in which pesticides are only used when there is a threat to crops and then they only use the minimum necessary for the problem.
on June 3,2013 | 09:27AM
maunalii wrote:
We have never used any of those 30 chemicals. Are those certified and trained technicians applying pesticides the ones wearing the full body suits and masks to protect themselves from being poisoned?
on June 3,2013 | 10:25AM
hilocal wrote:
BluesBreaker, you seem to pull your "facts" out of thin air. I've never read in legitimate sources what you claim. In fact, I've read just the opposite re IPM, which has been used by totally uninformed workers who often can't even read English.
on June 4,2013 | 06:21AM
mikethenovice wrote:
I'll stay with the pesticides grown crop rather then eating a bug from a organic grown crop when feeding a parent's feeble body. The organic is good for us young ones who can fight off the germs.
on June 4,2013 | 10:56AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
Unfortunately there will probably be lawsuits that can possibly kill Townsend Farms and result in the loss of jobs for its employees. All the opportunists will coming out of the woodwork trying to get a piece of the action. This kind of thing can kill a business. As for the comments regarding samples, if it was indeed sampled, wouldn't there be more incidents? I am no expert on this matter but Costco is protecting itself by recalling the product. Chances are not all of the product was tainted by the virus. But they needed to be on the safe side.
on June 3,2013 | 09:38AM
LizKauai wrote:
It's not a drink. It's frozen whole berries, I love this product because of the pomegranate... and just finished my last bag. I would like to put a jab here for the "love organic" gmo demonizers but I will refrain... God Bless and healing energy to anyone who got sick.
on June 3,2013 | 10:26AM
hilocal wrote:
LizKauai, the confusion arises because the New York Times, I think it was, reported it as the blended drink.
on June 4,2013 | 06:29AM
izdatso wrote:
The BIG lesson here is that it is hard feeding so many people that don't farm-they only eat. BTW this is most people on the planet as mos live in da cities. It doesn't mattah wether you one organic farmah or one conventional farmah it is one tough job to do it safe. BTW BTW I don't hear evah too many Biotech guys slammin organic guys- they jus want to co-exist. Same should be true da uddah way too. See- we all have our challenges-not too many farmahs period so we need to malama ALL da ones we got. ALOHA.
on June 3,2013 | 11:51AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Can't find the pigin words in my dictionary, brah! Just kidding!
on June 4,2013 | 10:58AM
localguy wrote:
Cub reporter Michael Tsai failed to do his due diligence before posting his article. The affected product is not a Costco/Kirkland product. It is instead made by a vendor, Townsend Farms.. Title of your article should have been, "Three Hawaii hepatitis cases now linked to Townsend Farms berries sold at Costco. Rookie ST Cub Reporters..............
on June 3,2013 | 04:06PM
hilocal wrote:
localguy, I've seen Tsai's byline for at least 10 years. And the reporter-writer doesn't usually write the headline.
on June 4,2013 | 06:31AM
ponowai wrote:
Why were the berries pulled on Wednesday but the public not notified till Sunday?
on June 3,2013 | 06:15PM
SteveToo wrote:
"This genotype was identified in a 2013 outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries and another 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt, the CDC said." Maybe it's a Muslim plot against the non-Muslim world. LOL
on June 3,2013 | 08:56PM
bumbye wrote:
I didn't know viruses could survive freezing temps. I guess so, or else we'd use freezing as pasteurization. Duh on me.
on June 3,2013 | 11:18PM
mikethenovice wrote:
Buy a electron microscope and put in in your house to inspect for any virus to make sure its safe to consume.
on June 4,2013 | 11:00AM
Giligan wrote:
That is the risk eating "ORGANIC". For me, give me the preservatives and GMO!
on June 4,2013 | 07:24AM
mikethenovice wrote:
I Second the motion!
on June 4,2013 | 11:00AM
Kate53 wrote:
Wow, the ignorance here is astounding. The hep A came from a WORKER IN THE FACTORY packaging the berries. It has nothing to do with organic; it could happen to non-organic as well. Factories are the danger with dirty equipment, dirty/sick employees, etc.
on June 4,2013 | 08:47AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Cheapskate companies who are trying to save money on manpower and equipment to keep it clean.
on June 4,2013 | 11:01AM
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