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Hepatitis A Outbreak Tied to A Foreign Shipment of Pomegranates

Update Date: Jul 04, 2013 10:51 AM EDT

The latest hepatitis A outbreak from Costco's organic frozen berry mix in the United States has afflicted 136 people so far. The berry mix was packaged by Townsend Farms Inc. After investigators looked into the source of the outbreak, they have identified a weak spot in the global food trade. According to the detectives, a shipment of pomegranate seeds that originated from Turkey's Anatolian region was responsible for the outbreak.

After the discovery, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has halted all shipments from the company, Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading. The shipments that arrived have since been seized at all of the ports. The FDA believes that the Hepatitis A outbreak will now be contained.

Several people have questioned the safety of importing foods and whether or not this flaw in the global trade needs to be addressed immediately. The United States currently gets half of its fresh fruits, 20 percent of fresh vegetables and 80 percent of seafood from foreign countries.

"I do think that the hepatitis A outbreak is a wonderful snapshot of the makeup of the global food system and the challenges it presents for food safety," the FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, Michael Taylor, said according to NPR. "It reflects the diversity of conditions in the scores and scores of countries involved."

The FDA does not inspect the majority of the imported food, only reviewing around two percent of it. The rest is up to U.S. manufacturers and distributors to ensure that the produce is safe to eat. According to the FDA, these companies that are responsible for inspecting food often hire third party companies to do it and "some are not done well." Back in 2011, a third party private auditor gave its employer, a cantaloupe-packaging facility, great reviews about the imported cantaloupe. 30 people ended up dying from the listeria infected melons. These cases continue to push lawmakers to tighten regulations and inspections to prevent horrible cases of infections from occurring.

Hepatitis A is most easily spread when people who are handling produce do not wash their hands after using the bathroom.

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