Strawberries linked to hepatitis: how to know if your berries are safe to eat

What is happening

The FDA warns of a potential link between some organic strawberries and an outbreak of hepatitis A.

why is it important

Hepatitis A can make you sick, especially if you are not vaccinated against it.

And after

Check your freezer for organic strawberries (now expired) sold at Walmart, Sprouts, Kroger and other popular stores.

People who bought fresh HEB and FreshKampo organic strawberries between March 5 and April 25 should not eat them, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Saturday.

The FDA, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Canadian health agencies are investigating a multi-state outbreak of hepatitis A believed to be linked to strawberries. There have been at least 17 cases of hepatitis A in the United States linked to the outbreak, according to the FDA, and 12 hospitalizations. The last person to fall ill was on April 30. In Canada, at least 10 cases have been reported.

The strawberries were sold at stores including Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Aldi and Safeway.

Although the strawberries are rotten or stale, some people may have put them in the freezer for later use. If you have frozen strawberries and you’re unsure of the brand, when you bought them, or if your strawberries are included in the FDA warning, you should throw them out, the agency said.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver, responsible for blood filtration and other important functions, caused by the hepatitis A virus. While most people make a full recovery (and many people in the United States are vaccinated against this disease), symptoms can last for weeks or even months and can cause more serious illnesses in some people.

Which strawberries are affected?

Fresh, organic HEB and FreshKampo strawberries sold between March 5 and April 25 at the following stores should not be consumed:

  • Aldi
  • HEB
  • Kroger
  • Safeway
  • Cabbage growers market
  • Trader Joe’s
  • walmart
  • Weis Markets
  • WinCo Foods

All of the strawberries studied are said to have passed their shelf life and are no longer on store shelves. In a statement, FreshKampo said the strawberries included (which no longer ship to market) would have had a label reading “Distributed by Meridian Fruits” on the plastic. HEB said in a statement that it had not received or sold any organic strawberries from the supplier under investigation since April 16.

If you purchased the possibly affected strawberries and have become ill within the past two weeks – and have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A – you should immediately call your doctor or a health clinic, in accordance with the FDA.

Post-exposure prophylaxis can be given within two weeks of exposure to hepatitis A, but is only recommended for unvaccinated people or those who have never been infected with hepatitis A, a said the FDA. (The hepatitis A vaccine is an example of PEP.)

The potentially affected strawberries have now passed their shelf life, the FDA said, but note the agency’s warning if freezing fruit.

Qwart/Getty Images

Is hepatitis A contagious? Is it curable?

According to the CDC, it is highly contagious, found in the blood or stool of infected people, and spread either through close contact or through contaminated food or drink. Past outbreaks in the United States have included contaminated frozen strawberries (in 2016) and scallops. Illness usually occurs within 15 to 50 days of eating contaminated food, according to the FDA.

Most people with hepatitis A do not have a prolonged illness, but symptoms can last up to two months and include headache, fatigue, nausea, stomach pain and jaundice. Jaundice causes the skin or eyes to turn yellow and can also cause dark urine or light-colored stools.

Unlike other types of hepatitis (such as hepatitis C), hepatitis A does not usually cause chronic liver damage, but it can cause serious illness in some, including the elderly and people with chronic liver diseases.

A CDC investigation of cases of hepatitis of unknown cause in young children is ongoing and is currently not related to the investigation of organic strawberries or any other food.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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