RICHMOND, Va. – According to the Virginia Department of Health there are now 59 confirmed cases of hepatitis A that are connected to frozen strawberries from Egypt used at Tropical Smoothie Cafes across Virginia.
The VDH says onsets of the illness for the 59 cases range from early May through August. Previously, Department of Health said that only people who consumed smoothies with frozen strawberries from Tropical Smoothie Cafe on August 5, 6, 7 or 8 may be at risk.
“Onsets of illness for the 40 cases range from early May through mid-August. The common exposure shared by ill persons was not hypothesized until August, at which time VDH re-interviewed persons reported earlier in the year to confirm the link with smoothie consumption,” VDH said in a statement on their website.
Of the 59 confirmed cases, 12 are in the Eastern region of Virginia that includes Hampton Roads, 33 are in the Northern region, eight are in the Northwest and six are in the Central region
The 59 ill residents range in age from 14-68. Approximately 41% of the residents have been hospitalized for their illness.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe voluntarily withdrew all of the strawberries sourced from Egypt and found an alternate supply.
A class action class action lawsuit representing all of the victims of the outbreak was filed on Friday.
Bill Marler, who's representing 45 Tropical Smoothie Customers, tells News 3 the company and the health department allegedly waited 14 days to tell the public about the outbreak.
"So there's about a two week window that people could have gotten shots to prevent them from getting sick and I wanna know why they weren't told earlier," Marler explained.
We reached out to Tropical Smoothie about Marler's claim. They didn't address the waiting period, but did send us the following statement.
“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 cafés. Our first concern is their health and recovery. After being notified by The Virginia Department of Health of possible links between strawberries
sourced from Egypt and Hepatitis A, we voluntarily pulled all Egyptian strawberries from our cafés. We are now sourcing strawberries only from the Americas. We continue to work closely with state health officials, as well as the CDC and FDA, to share all information we have regarding our source of these strawberries. In fact, health officials have praised our cooperation and swift action to voluntarily withdraw the Egyptian strawberries from our
cafés. However, with an incubation period of 15 – 50 days for Hepatitis A, there remains the possibility that additional cases may arise from people who consumed Egyptian strawberries before August 8th. Additional information may be found our website at http://tropicalsmoothie.com/food-safety.
We appreciate the continued patience and support of our guests, franchisees, and their hardworking employees as we work through this unfortunate situation.”
--Tropical Smoothie Café®
We also reached out to health department about the alleged delay in notifying the public.
They sent us the below statement.
"The foodborne disease investigation process is multi-disciplinary and complex. From the beginning, VDH has been engaged in looking at case information, food histories, patient interviews, food distribution chains, food handling practices, laboratory data, etc. in order to define the risk to the public. As has been done in past food-related outbreaks, VDH issued a press release as soon as possible at the time the investigation provided enough information to define who are at risk of the disease and the steps needed to be taken."
Central Region Public Information Officer