June 30, 2013
FDA To Detain Pomegranate Seed Imports Linked To Hepatitis A Outbreak
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
The pomegranate seeds in question originate from Goknur Gida Maddeleri Ithalat Ihracat Tic [Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading] of Turkey, and it is believed that they played a role in the ongoing multi-state outbreak of Hepatitis A illnesses that has infected over 120 individuals to date, the federal public health department announced on Saturday.
The decision to block the import of the pomegranate seeds follows a joint investigation by the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local health authorities into the outbreak, which has been associated with Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend - a frozen fruit blend sold at Costco which contains pomegranate seed mix originating from Turkey.
"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 used by Townsend Farms to make the Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blends that were recalled in June," the agency said.
Those seeds were also used by Gresham, Oregon-based Scenic Fruit Company, who according to Ryan Jaslow of CBS News issued a voluntary recall of more than 61,000 bags of Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels earlier this week due to health concerns related to Hepatitis A.
"No illnesses are currently associated with Scenic Fruit's products, and product testing so far has found no presence of the liver-damaging virus on its pomegranate seeds, which were imported from Turkey," Jaslow said. "The outbreak, however, is being conducted out of an abundance of caution because of an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen pomegranate seeds of Turkish origin."
"This outbreak highlights the food safety challenge posed by today's global food system," FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine Michael R. Taylor said in a statement. "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."
The agency noted that a review of records showed that the Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading pomegranate seeds were the only ingredient common to all brands and varieties of the recalled Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blend. The FDA also said that it would be working with all companies that have distributed seeds from this shipment to make sure that all parties that received the product are notified.
According to the CDC, as of June 27, a total of 127 men and women had been exposed to the disease from ingesting Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend. Illnesses have been reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wisconsin (though this individual was exposed to the product in California). In addition, the CDC reported that the outbreak strain was found in the clinical specimens of 56 people in seven states.