Tropical Smoothie Cafe sued for Hepatitis A virus in Egyptian strawberry supply

Erik Petrovich

 

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Tropical Smoothie Cafe has been linked to dozens of hepatitis A infections in Virginia due to a supply of strawberries sourced from Egypt infected with the hepatitis A virus. The Egyptian Strawberries were removed from all stores after August 8 2016, but there remains a risk to those who consumed the strawberries before the company recalled the supply.

According to the Virginia Health Department, 66 cases of hepatitis A in Virginia have been linked to the Egyptian strawberries used by the Tropical Smoothie Cafe in July and August this year. One man is reportedly suing the company for $100,000, and some others are filing a class-action lawsuit.

Assessing the Situation

The company was first made aware of the link between the hepatitis outbreaks and the Egyptian strawberries on August 5, after the Virginia Department of Health found that the afflicted had consumed smoothies containing strawberries from Tropical Smoothie Cafe franchises.

In a press release, Tropical Smoothie Cafe said they had removed all the Egyptian strawberries are now only sourcing strawberries from the Americas, specifically Mexico and California. The company claims that the Egyptian strawberries were predominantly distributed to stores in Virginia.

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Junior English Major Jordan Ritchie works at Tropical Smoothie Cafe and is helping a customer. (Tony Villalobos May| Collegian) Photo credit: Tony Villalobos May

 

“Food safety is Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s top priority, and we are deeply sorry for anyone who may have become ill after visiting one of our Virginia-area cafes,” the press release states. “Our first concern is their health and recovery.”

The Fort Collins franchised store on the corner of College Avenue and Laurel Street could not be reached for comment. As the strawberries were almost exclusively distributed to Virginia stores, it is highly unlikely that the Fort Collins location posed a risk to consumers.

Hepatitis A – risks, symptoms

Even though Tropical Smoothie Cafe recalled the strawberries, the incubation period for hepatitis A can be anywhere from 15 to 50 days – if one consumed the affected strawberries before August 8, there is a slight chance that the virus could develop.

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Dr. Richard Bowen, a Colorado State University professor with a specialty in infectious diseases, said while hepatitis A is one of the less severe forms of the hepatitis virus, it can still pose serious risks to the health of those affected by it.

Whereas hepatitis B can be transmitted through blood, hepatitis A is almost exclusively transmitted through food consumption.

“It can cause mild disease or extreme disease,” Bowen said. “Hepatitis B is a global health problem. (Hepatitis A) can cause these relatively large epidemics.”

The severity of hepatitis A can be different from person to person, but ultimately is most harmful to liver function. Hepatitis A infects liver cells and causes dysfunction, sometimes resulting in gastro-intestinal discomfort and physical symptoms.

Common symptoms can include diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, nausea, vomiting and weakness.

Less common but more severe symptoms abdominal discomfort, dark urine, inflammation of the liver, jaundice and yellowing of the skin.

What now?

After being notified by the Virginia Department of Health, the company claims it immediately withdrew all Egyptian strawberries from locations that had them in supply.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe no longer sources any ingredients from Egypt, according to the press release.

CEO Mike Rotando has issued a video message apologizing to those affected and offered a defense of the company.

“‘Eat better, Feel better’ is not just a marketing slogan, it’s a promise, and it’s something that I believe in very dearly,” Rotando said. “I sincerely apologize for any issues this may have caused for any of our customers.”

Collegian Editor-in-Chief Erik Petrovich can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @EAPetrovich