An outbreak of hepatitis A in Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin has been traced to non-blackberries sold at Fresh Thyme stores, prompting a warning in multiple states including Minnesota.
While no cases have been confirmed in Minnesota as of yet, some 11 instances of the virus have been found in the three states mentioned above, of which six are in Nebraska.
"Based on those interviews and information collected from other states during the investigation so far, the 11 people who became ill reported eating fresh, non-organic blackberries from Fresh Thyme grocery stores in three states: Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin," a statement from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday.
"According to federal health officials, trace back information shows that the berries came from a distribution center that ships fresh berries to Fresh Thyme grocery stores in other states."
Minnesota is among those other states, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging anyone who bought fresh blackberries from Fresh Thyme between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30 and then froze them to throw them away.
Fresh Thyme has nine stores in Minnesota, most of them in the Twin Cities metro.
"Although no illnesses have yet been reported in Minnesota, we are alerting consumers, out of an abundance of caution, and urging you to throw out any non-organic blackberries you purchased from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market," said Minnesota Department of Agriculture Food and Feed Safety Director Katherine Simon.
"Contact your healthcare provider if you think you may have become ill from eating these blackberries, or if you believe that you have eaten these berries in the last two weeks," the MDA added.
Hepatitis A is a virus that can cause liver disease, and has an incubation period of 30 days. Symptoms can include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pains and diarrhea, as well as yellowing skin or eyes, and dark urine.
Fresh Thyme issued the following statement on Thursday:
"The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, in conjunction with other state and local agencies, have contacted us concerning a recent Hepatitis A outbreak in three states in the Midwest affecting an unspecified number of individuals. These agencies are investigating and believe that affected people may have consumed fresh conventional (non-organic) blackberries between September 9 and September 30, 2019. We are fully cooperating with these agencies on the investigation and are awaiting next steps.
At this time, there is no reason to believe that any of the product was contaminated via handling in our stores. In addition, the agencies are ONLY concerned with product purchased between September 9 and September 30; product purchased or consumed outside of these dates are NOT subject to the investigation. We are working with these agencies to identify our suppliers and isolate the source of this contamination. Fresh Thyme takes the health and safety of our customers and our team members very seriously. Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has a stringent process for ensuring compliance to all local, state and federal health and hygiene regulations.
Should any customers have any of the fresh conventional blackberries purchased between September 9 and September 30, remaining in their refrigerators or freezers, they should be discarded immediately or returned to Fresh Thyme for a refund. In Douglas County, NE, if you purchased any of these berries between September 9 and September 30, and still have them, please take them to the local health department for testing.
Again, Fresh Thyme is committed to the health and safety of our customers, and we will continue to work closely with these agencies to determine the source of the contamination."