A recent string of Hepatitis A cases in Virginia may be linked to strawberries from popular chain Tropical Smoothie Café. A local NBC affiliate reports that frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt may be to blame, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Tropical Smoothie Café pulled all strawberries from Egypt used in their stores, both in Virginia and elsewhere. Health officials also caution that other frozen strawberries from Egypt could be contaminated, not just those from the smoothie chain.
The Department of Health is urging anyone who consumed a smoothie at Tropical Smoothie Café within the last 50 days to stay alert to symptoms of Hepatitis A. In particular, they believe smoothies consumed on August 5-8 may be at risk. A Hepatitis A vaccination can still be effective up to two weeks after exposure, so those at risk should consider getting vaccinated if they are not already.
The symptoms of Hepatitis A include:
- Abdominal pain, especially on the right side
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
These symptoms may not present until several weeks after exposure. Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection that is most often contracted through contaminated food or water. Although most cases are mild and do not cause permanent damage to the liver, it is important to seek treatment if you think you may have contracted the virus as some cases can be more severe.
Those who have already been vaccinated for Hepatitis A are not at risk.
Tropical Smoothie Café has now removed all frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt, and the restaurant is not considered to be a risk currently. Virginians should remain alert, however, to any restaurants using frozen strawberries.
Tropical Smoothie Café’s full statement is below:
“Tropical Smoothie Cafe was notified by the Virginia Department of Health about several foodborne illnesses in the state linked to frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt. Our cafes and their food handling practices have not been implicated in any way – the health department believes this is a single product issue (strawberries) sourced from Egypt. Egyptian strawberries represent a fraction of our overall strawberries purchased, and were predominantly distributed to stores in the Virginia market. Today, our strawberries are primarily sourced from Mexico and California. However, in an abundance of caution, we voluntarily pulled all strawberries sourced from Egypt from every cafe in our system, not only the Virginia cafes. Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of our guests and crew members and we will continue to cooperate with the health authorities.”
As of Friday, the total number of reported cases has risen to 35, including cases in both Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area. At least two lawsuits have been filed against Tropical Smoothie Café alleging negligence in sourcing ingredients from countries that have less stringent food safety requirements, including Egypt.
A spokesperson from the Alexandria health department stated that it can be difficult to determine the exact origins of the virus due to its long incubation period. People may not remember exactly what or where they ate several weeks before they started experiencing symptoms.