Hepatitis A outbreak in US and Canada linked to Mexican strawberries

Authorities have reported at least 27 infections. Efforts to trace the disease point to the consumption of organic fruits from the Michoacán-based company FreshKampo

A worker harvest strawberries in Mexico.
A worker harvest strawberries in Mexico.Jeoffrey Guillemard (Bloomberg)

The United States and Canada have confirmed a total of 27 cases of hepatitis A linked to strawberries from Mexico. All of the patients reported that they consumed Mexican company FreshKampo’s organic strawberries prior to the onset of their illness. Based on this evidence, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued an alert on May 28 to prevent further consumption of the product and to stop the spread of the disease. Meanwhile, Freshkampo, a Michoacán-based company, confirmed that all potentially affected products have been removed from the market. Mexico’s Agrifood Health Service (Senasica) said it is cooperating with the investigation but did not provide further details.

According to the FDA, the fresh organic strawberries were sold between March 5 and April 25, 2022. The lot is linked to 17 people who became ill in the United States; 15 cases were reported in California, one in Minnesota and another in North Dakota. Of these cases, a dozen patients have been hospitalized. Since this is an ongoing investigation, it is possible that additional products will be added to the alert. The products were sold in supermarkets including Walmart, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, HEB, Kroger, Safeway, Sprouts Farmers Market, Weis Markets and WinCo Foods.

To date, health authorities in Canada have reported at least 10 cases of hepatitis A in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan that are linked to consuming imported strawberries. These people became ill in April 2022. The patients are between the ages of 10 and 75; four have required hospitalization. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation of fresh organic strawberries purchased between March 5 and 9, 2022 at co-op stores in the affected provinces.

“People who purchased the fresh strawberries and then froze those strawberries for later consumption should not eat them. They should be thrown away,” the FDA warned in its alert.

FreshKampo has stated that the potentially affected organic strawberries are out of season and are no longer being shipped to market. “FreshKampo wants consumers to know that it will continue to work with health officials and supply chain partners to determine where a problem may have occurred along the supply chain and take necessary measures to prevent it from happening again,” the company said in a statement.

When asked, FreshKampo confirmed that US authorities are continuing to investigate the matter, and cannot yet confirm the source of the hepatitis A outbreak. However, the company affirmed that no other cases have been detected in other US states or Canadian provinces, nor in other countries. Mexico’s regulatory authority, Agrifood Health Service (Senasica), confirmed it is cooperating with international agencies to trace the outbreak, but the agency declined to provide more details about the progress of the investigations.

Last March, one of the company’s Facebook accounts posted an image of the strawberry shipments that would be sent abroad: “Our FreshKampo organic strawberries look incredible!” The message was accompanied by a picture of many company boxes.

FreshKampo was founded in 2004 in the city of Uruapan in Michoacán. In the process of expanding in the Americas and Europe, FreshKampo has created subsidiary companies to market its fruits. One such company is Meridian Fruits, which is now linked to the hepatitis A outbreak. In a statement, the company explained: “During this timeframe, the label on the plastic clamshell of potentially affected fresh organic strawberries would have said ‘Distributed by Meridian Fruits.’”

The FDA notes that hepatitis A usually develops within 15 to 50 days of eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Symptoms of the infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice, dark urine and pale stools. In some cases, those infected with hepatitis A may be asymptomatic, especially children under six years of age.

People infected with hepatitis A usually recover completely in one to two weeks; however, in rare cases, hepatitis A can become a chronic condition, causing recurrent infection. Chronic hepatitis A infections can lead to more serious health problems, including liver failure and death. Because the disease can range in severity, the FDA urges people to consult their healthcare providers if they suspect they have developed the symptoms of hepatitis A.

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