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Organic strawberries hepatitis A outbreak - what do we know

Annalisa Hultberg, Extension Educator food safety

The FDA is investigating a multistate outbreak of hepatitis A infections linked to fresh organic strawberries. At least 12 people in Minnesota, California and Canada have been sickened from eating the berries. Hepatitis A is a contagious virus that can cause mild to severe illness, including serious and long-lasting liver damage. The virus can spread between people if they consume food or water that has been contaminated by feces containing the hepatitis A virus, including produce like strawberries. Read more about this outbreak and how to prevent this sort of foodborne illness from occurring on your farm. 

What is hepatitis A and how is it spread via fruits and vegetables?

Hepatitis A is a human virus that can spread between people when we consume food or drink items that have been contaminated with feces from an ill person.  Ice, water, seafood, berries and lettuce have all been linked to hepatitis A outbreaks in the past. While bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella can come from many sources such as manure, wildlife, pets, or humans, viruses like Hepatitis A only come from humans that are infected with the virus. 

Sick workers spread the virus to other 
people and to fruits and vegetables that they might handle. 

When someone is ill with hepatitis A goes to the bathroom and doesn't wash their hands properly, and then handles fresh produce, they can spread microscopic amounts of the virus to that produce. The virus can last on the surface of that produce, where it can then be consumed by an eater. According to the CDC, viruses like hepatitis A can survive at least a month on the surface of produce. It can be killed by heating the food to at least 185 degrees. But for items often eaten raw, like berries, there is no "kill step."

What do we know abou.t the current outbreak?

These potentially contaminated strawberries were imported from Baja California, a state in northern Mexico and branded as FreshKampo and HEB by a common supplier; they were purchased between March 5, 2022, and April 25, 2022. 

Currently, these fresh organic strawberries branded as FreshKampo and HEB products are past shelf life and are not available for purchase in stores. People who purchased FreshKampo and HEB fresh organic strawberries between March 5, 2022, and April 25, 2022, and then froze those strawberries for later consumption should not eat them. Current information on the outbreak, including lot numbers of affected containers can be found here from FDA.

What can we do to prevent hepatitis A from spreading on our farm?

Since hepatitis A is spread via the "fecal oral route", handwashing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent viruses like hepatitis A from spreading on your farm, since proper handwashing breaks the chain that can bring the contaminants from the bathroom to your produce. Preventing any sick workers from handling fresh produce is another important step. It can take 15 to 45 days before symptoms occur, so tell workers that they should not come to work if they suspect they have any illness. And some people who are ill with the virus never show any symptoms at all (that is why handwashing for all employees all the time is a good idea!)

Handwashing breaks the "fecal oral route" that brings contaminants 
like hepatitis A virus from ill workers to your produce

Here is more information on handwashing on the farm, including a factsheet on building a low cost handwashing stand. 

Sample personal hygiene rules for all farm employees and visitors 

Here is a list of topics you can use to train all workers. Spring and early summer is a great time to provide refresher training on these topics. 

  • Wash hands frequently – before working with the vegetables, before starting work, after eating, after using the restroom, after working with livestock or animals, after taking out garbage or handling compost
  • Always use the restroom (show where restrooms are, or Port-a-Potties)
  • Proper hand washing (demonstrate if possible) – 15- 20 seconds of rubbing hands together with soap and water, rinse, turn water off with paper towel, dry with single use paper towel, dispose of paper towel in secure container
  • Wear clean cloths and footwear to work, especially if you work with livestock
  • It's very important that you don’t work when you are sick. Don't come to work if you are sick with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, jaundice. Tell your supervisor if you get sick at work.
  • If you wear gloves to harvest, maintain them in a sanitary condition, change if contaminated or torn. Reusable gloves must be cleaned often.
  • Remove aprons, gloves, rubber bands and other equipment before using the toilet and store in a clean, designated area when not in use.
  • Do not eat, chew gum or use tobacco in the field or in the packingshed. Take breaks in designated areas


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