The fruit smoothie, long thought of by many as a healthy meal replacement, is the cause of a Hepatitis A outbreak in five states across the country. Food Safety News reports the outbreak is linked to frozen strawberries served at Tropical Smoothie Cafe locations in Virginia, and 44 people in the state are sick. An additional seven people in Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin have been infected.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control, though it is a "self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection." Symptoms include jaundice, fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, and they "can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months."
The CDC, Food and Drug Administration, and states affected are investigating the outbreak, a CDC spokesperson told Food Safety News. The Virginia Department of Health warned residents of a possible health risk, but that came two weeks after the state notified Tropical Smoothie on August 5, according to a statement posted by chief executive officer Mike Rotondo on YouTube. A statement posted on Tropical Smoothie's website indicates the tainted strawberries were imported from Egypt, and the chain has pulled imported Egyptian strawberries from all of its locations.
An official with the Virginia Department of Health told Food Safety News the agency waited to alert the public because it had to get all of its facts straight: "It is important to have a high level of confidence in the message and accuracy in the assessment of risk when issuing statewide notices about a single product."
This is the second outbreak of foodborne illness linked to frozen produce in recent months. In May, a listeria outbreak led to a massive recall of frozen vegetables that touched 50 states.
• Hepatitis A outbreak linked to smoothies spans 5 states; 51 sick [FSN]
• Listeria Outbreak Leads to Massive Frozen Food Recall in 50 States [E]
• All DOH Coverage [E]