Officials at the Virginia Department of Health are warning people who have drunk smoothies at any Tropical Smoothie Cafe location across the state in the last 50 days that they may have been exposed to hepatitis A, WGRZ reports.
While looking into a number of hepatitis A cases, the VDH says genetic tests discovered the cause to be a strain of the virus previously associated with past outbreaks due to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe immediately announced a voluntary product recall of all strawberries from Egypt upon hearing of the possible association and sourced from another supplier. In a statement, the cafe said that their “food handling practices have not been implicated in any way,” and that they pulled out all strawberries “in an abundance of caution” from branches everywhere, not just in Virginia.
Lisa Engle of the VDH cautions that any smoothie, not just the strawberry ones, may have caused hepatitis A. She says the process for making smoothies involves rinsing out the blender then making other batches, which might have contaminated other smoothie flavors.
Tropical Smoothie Cafes may not be the only place where the tainted strawberries were used. Other restaurants and suppliers could have likewise imported strawberries from Egypt.
The VDH, the US Food and Drug Administration, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are all working together to pinpoint other locations where the fruit might have been distributed.
Anyone who has consumed a smoothie within the last 50 days, particularly with frozen strawberries in it, is advised to watch for symptoms of hepatitis A. If any occur, patients should seek medical help immediately and take steps to prevent infecting others.
Those who have had a strawberry smoothie on August 5 to 8 can still take a hepatitis A vaccine, as any vaccine administered within two weeks of exposure remains effective at preventing the disease from happening. People who have previously had hepatitis A or have been vaccinated in the past are not at risk.