Monument woman sues Oregon producer over tainted berries

September 10, 2013 Updated: September 10, 2013 at 8:16 pm

It's a case of health food with a not-so-healthy additive.

A Monument woman filed a federal class-action suit this month against an Oregon-based fruit grower, alleging she had to seek medical care after consuming a frozen berry mix tied to hepatitis A outbreaks in Colorado and other western states.

The product - sold by Fairview, Ore.-based Townsend Farms Inc. - has since been removed from the shelves at Costco. The Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend was responsible for sickening 161 people in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Hawaii, Washington, and California, according to a Sept. 13 public health notice by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Costco stores sold the mixed berries and pomegranate seeds beginning in early 2013 and removed the product in May, when the CDC announced its findings. The retailer also issued a product recall and warned customers against consuming the berries.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that causes fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and a yellowing of the eyes and skin, among other symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

The disease is associated with foods tainted with fecal matter, and the illness can last from several weeks to several months.

In some cases, hepatitis A can be fatal.

Seventy consumers required hospitalization after contracting the disease, the CDC said. No deaths were reported.

The lawsuit - filed in U.S. District Court in Denver by Suzanne Faber - said Faber sought a hepatitis A vaccination after consuming the berries purchased from a Costco at 5050 N. Nevada Ave. in Colorado Springs. She does not specify whether she contracted hepatitis A.

Purely Pomegranate Inc. was also named as a defendant. In a June news release, Townsend Farms defended its food handling practices and said the illness was tied to a shipment of pomegranate seeds it received from Purely Pomegranate, which in turn imported the berries from a producer in Turkey.

A representative of Purely Pomegranate did not return a phone call.

The class action is open to anyone who ate the berries and contracted hepatitis A or underwent testing or vaccination for the disease, the lawsuit says. People who came into close contact with sickened consumers are also eligible.

Phone calls to attorneys on both sides of the case went unreturned.

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