Virginia health officials have linked an outbreak of Hepatitis A in the state to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt and used in the Tropical Smoothie Café chain.
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said so far its investigations of “a cluster of hepatitis A cases” point to “a potential association with smoothies from Tropical Smoothie Cafe restaurants in Virginia.”
Genetic testing shows the illnesses were caused by a strain of hepatitis A that has been associated with past outbreaks linked to frozen strawberries from Egypt. Upon learning of the potential link to the strawberries, Tropical Smoothie Cafe immediately conducted a voluntary product withdrawal of all strawberries sourced from Egypt and found an alternate supply.
The smoothie chain said that the food handling practices in its stores “have not been implicated in any way.” Tropical Smoothie operates 96 stores in Virginia and several stores in other states. It is not clear whether any Hepatitis A cases in other states have been linked to the outbreak, but the smoothie chain said that the affected strawberries were predominantly distributed to its stores in the Virginia market.
“In an abundance of caution, we voluntarily pulled all strawberries sourced from Egypt from every cafe in our system,” Tropical Smoothie said in a statement, noting that it is now using strawberries sourced in Mexico and California.
VDH said on Friday that anyone who consumed a smoothie from a Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Virginia that contained frozen strawberries on August 5- 8 may still benefit from a Hepatitis A vaccine or immunoglobulin, which are effective in preventing hepatitis A if administered within two weeks of exposure.
Anyone who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries from Tropical Smoothie within the last 50 days should watch for symptoms of hepatitis A, health authorities advised.
Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. The classic symptom is jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin or the eyes. Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools. Symptoms develop between 15-50 days after exposure to the virus, which can occur through direct contact with another person who has the infection or by consuming food or drink that has been contaminated with the virus.
Health officials in Hawaii are currently battling that state’s largest-ever Hepatitis A outbreak, which they linked to frozen scallops imported from the Philippines. Last week, Hawaii health authorities found that a chain of sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai had been using the contaminated scallops.