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Hepatitis A outbreak linked to organic strawberries

People who bought FreshKampo or HEB-brand organic strawberries between March 5 and April 25 and then froze them should throw them out, the FDA says.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in May that it is investigating a multi-state salmonella outbreak that may be linked to recalled Jif peanut butter products. Now, another potential foodborne illness outbreak is worrying some shoppers.

VERIFY viewer Amanda texted the team to ask if strawberries have been linked to hepatitis A cases. Google Trends data shows that others are also looking for information about a possible link between organic strawberries and a recent outbreak of the virus.

THE QUESTION

Have some brands of organic strawberries been linked to a hepatitis A outbreak?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, some brands of organic strawberries have been linked to a hepatitis A outbreak. The FDA says people who bought FreshKampo and HEB-brand organic strawberries from March 5 through April 25, 2022 and then froze them should throw them out.

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WHAT WE FOUND

Fresh organic strawberries sold as FreshKampo and HEB brands and purchased between March 5 and April 25 are a “probable cause of disease” in a multi-stage hepatitis A outbreak, the FDA said. The agency is investigating the outbreak with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and state and local partners.

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the highly contagious hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus is spread when someone unknowingly picks it up through contact with an infected person or by consuming contaminated food or drink, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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“The traceback studies show that [Hepatitis A] Cases in California, Minnesota and Canada report buying FreshKampo or HEB brand fresh organic strawberries before they got sick. Disease onset dates are between March 28 and April 30, 2022,” the FDA wrote in its announcement of the investigation.

A total of 17 cases have been reported in the United States, including 15 in California, one in Minnesota and one in North Dakota. Twelve people were hospitalized but no deaths were reported. The last onset of illness was reported on April 30th.

The potentially affected strawberries were branded FreshKampo and HEB and were sold at Aldi, HEB, Kroger, Safeway, Sprouts Farmers Market, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Weis Markets and WinCo Foods.

According to the FDA, the strawberries are past their shelf life, but anyone who bought them between March 5 and April 25, 2022 and then froze them should not eat them.

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Urban Remedy, a food and beverage company, is also recalling its Organic Revitalizing Tea Tonic Strawberry Hibiscus Rose, lot number 1232, with a best before date of July 17, 2022 due to possible hepatitis A contamination. The 12-ounce product went on sale in stores in two dozen U.S. states from May 17-29, 2022. No diseases related to the tea have been reported.

Those who purchased tea with the affected lot number should throw it away or return it for full credit, said Urban Remedy CEO Paul Coletta.

Health Canada is also investigating a hepatitis A outbreak likely linked to fresh organic strawberries. There have been 10 confirmed cases in the country in two provinces and four people have been hospitalized. People got sick between early and mid-April 2022, the health department said.

FreshKampo, a strawberry supplier, confirmed in a statement that the strawberries that could be affected are “out of season and no longer put on the market”. The company said it is working with the FDA to gather information to help the investigation “trace the product and determine where the problem may have arisen.”

HEB, a grocery chain in Texas, said on May 29 that “all strawberries sold at HEB are safe,” and that no diseases from strawberries have been reported at HEB or in Texas related to the FDA investigation. The chain said it has not received or sold any FreshKampo organic strawberries since April 16.

Those who aren’t sure what brand of strawberries they bought or when they bought them before freezing should throw them away.

If a person who is not vaccinated against hepatitis A bought the strawberries between March 5 and April 25 and ate them in the last week, they should consult their doctor to determine if post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is needed the FDA.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the two-dose hepatitis A vaccine for all children ages 12 to 23 months. Children should receive the first dose when they are 1 year old, followed by the second dose six months later. The health agency says children and adolescents ages 2 to 18 who have not previously been vaccinated against hepatitis A should get the vaccine.

The vaccine is also recommended for people who are at high risk of getting hepatitis A, including men who have sex with men, people with HIV or chronic liver disease, people who are homeless and people at risk of occupational infection, the CDC said.

Hepatitis A symptoms usually don’t appear until a person has had the virus for a few weeks, and not everyone with the virus develops symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms may include tiredness, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or discomfort, clay-colored stools, dark urine, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, and severe itching.

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Alley Einstein

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