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Lakewood Costco Connected To Hepatitis A Outbreak; Local Woman Hospitalized

This handout image provided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows the label of Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., Organic Antioxidant Blend, packaged under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at those stores. The Oregon company is recalling a frozen berry mix sold to Costco and Harris Teeter stores after the product was linked to at least 34 hepatitis A illnesses in five states. (AP/FDA) Photo: AP

This handout image provided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows the label of Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., Organic Antioxidant Blend, packaged under the Townsend Farms label at Costco and under the Harris Teeter brand at those stores. The Oregon company is recalling a frozen berry mix sold to Costco and Harris Teeter stores after the product was linked to at least 34 hepatitis A illnesses in five states. (AP/FDA) Photo: AP

By Brian Hews

Costco in Lakewood has been linked to an outbreak of Hepatitis A after a popular frozen organic berry mix sold by an Oregon company appears to be the source of the alarming situation that has already landed one local women in the hospital.

The Food and Drug Administration the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that at least 30 illnesses are linked to Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend, which contains pomegranate seed mix.

Illnesses were reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and locally here in the Lakewood/Long Beach area.

Lynda Brackenridge, 51, a resident of Lakewood told NBC4 News Reporter Robert Kovacik on Monday night that she ate the Townsend Farms organic antioxidant frozen fruit blend “every morning,” and claims to have purchased the mix from the Costco in Lakewood.

Brackenridge told Kovacik in a phone interview from her hospital bed on Monday night that her lawsuit names both companies.  Brackenridge said she was “very weak” and that her illness “progressed rapidly.”

“There’s never an excuse to have feces in food, and that’s exactly what we have in this case,” her attorney, Ron Simon of Simon & Luke LLP, referring to the way the liver disease is typically spread.

A Costco spokesman said Friday that the company has “removed the product from stores and is attempting to contact members who purchased the product since late February.”

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks to several months. People often contract it when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. Food already contaminated with the virus can also cause outbreaks.

As of Wednesday, the government had not announced a recall of the tainted frozen food product.

CDC officials also went on the record this week stating “retailers and other food service operators should not sell or serve Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend.”

The FDA said it is inspecting the processing facilities of Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., which sold the mix.

Bill Gaar, a lawyer for Townsend Farms, said the frozen organic blend bag includes pomegranate seeds from Turkey, and are 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,” Gaar said.

He said Townsend Farms believes Costco is the only customer who bought the product, though they are checking to see if any other retailers may have sold it.

Hepatitis A illnesses occur within 15 to 50 days of exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool.

Vaccination can prevent illness if given within two weeks of exposure, and those who have already been vaccinated are unlikely to become ill, according to CDC.

The same genotype of hepatitis A was identified in an outbreak in Europe linked to frozen berries this year, the CDC said, as well as a 2012 outbreak in British Columbia related to a frozen berry blend with pomegranate seeds from Egypt. In addition to the United States and Turkey, the agency said the Townsend Farms berries also included products from Argentina and Chile.

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One Response to Lakewood Costco Connected To Hepatitis A Outbreak; Local Woman Hospitalized

  1. Jamie Reply

    June 4, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    So here is what is so interesting, A friend of mine and I actually got a message from Costco via the phone saying that they knew we had purchased these. Wanted us to be aware and contact them if we experienced any signs of illness and to return them for a refund. I was actually impressed since it is all on record via our Costco. card.

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