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Can Strawberries Give You Hepatitis A? What to Know

A bunch of bright red strawberries
Getty Images

What's happening

The FDA is warning about a potential link between some fresh, organic strawberries and a hepatitis A outbreak.

Why it matters

Hepatitis A can make you sick, especially if you're not vaccinated against it.

What's next

If you freeze fruit to save for later, check if you have the (now expired) strawberries sold at Kroger, Walmart, Sprouts and other popular stores.

Fresh, organic strawberries sold under H-E-B and FreshKampo brands shouldn't be eaten if you bought them between March 5 and April 25, the US Food and Drug Administration is warning, because they may be contaminated with hepatitis A. 

These potentially affected berries would be past their shelf life, so this warning applies to people who would've put them in the freezer for later. 

The FDA, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Canadian health agencies are investigating a multistate outbreak of hepatitis A that's believed to be linked to the strawberries. The strawberries were imported from a supplier in Baja California, Mexico. There have been at least 17 cases of hepatitis A in the US linked to the outbreak, per the FDA, and 12 hospitalizations. The last person to become sick fell ill on April 30. In Canada, at least 10 cases have been reported. 

The strawberries were sold at many popular stores including Walmart, Trader Joe's, Kroger and Safeway. 

Though the strawberries would be rotten or expired by now, some people may have put them in the freezer for later use. If you have frozen strawberries and are unsure of the brand, when you bought them or whether your strawberries are included in the FDA's warning, you should throw them out, the agency said. 

Here's what to know.

Labels from the two brands with potentially affected strawberries. Only fresh strawberries purchased between March 5 and April 25 are included in the FDA's recall, not berries currently on store shelves. Click to enlarge.

FDA

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver, which is responsible for filtering blood and other important functions, caused by the hepatitis A virus. While most people recover completely (and many people in the US are vaccinated against it), symptoms can last weeks to months and can cause more serious illness in some people. 

Which strawberries are affected? 

Fresh, organic H-E-B and FreshKampo-brand strawberries purchased between March 5 and April 25 shouldn't be eaten, per the FDA. Stores that sold them include (but aren't limited to): 

  • H-E-B
  • Kroger
  • Safeway
  • Sprouts Farmers Market
  • Trader Joe's
  • Walmart
  • Weis Markets
  • WinCo Foods

All the investigated strawberries would be past their shelf life and no longer on store shelves. In a statement, FreshKampo said the strawberries included (which are no longer being shipped to the marketplace) would have had a label that said "Distributed by Meridian Fruits" on the plastic packaging. H-E-B said in a statement that it has not received or sold organic strawberries from the supplier under investigation since April 16. 

If you purchased the possibly affected strawberries and became sick within the last two weeks – and you haven't been vaccinated against hepatitis A – you should immediately call your doctor or a health clinic, per the FDA. 

Postexposure prophylaxis might be given within two weeks of exposure to hepatitis A, but it's only recommended for people who aren't vaccinated or those who haven't previously been infected with hepatitis A, the FDA said. 

The hepatitis A vaccine is one example of PEP. The two-dose hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for most US children between their first and second birthdays.

A person handles a bag of frozen strawberries

The potentially affected strawberries are now past their shelf life, the FDA said, but make note of the agency's warning if you freeze fruits.

Qwart/Getty Images

Is hepatitis A contagious? Is it curable?

According to the CDC, it's very contagious, found in the blood or stool of people who are infected, and it spreads either through close contact or through contaminated foods or drinks. US outbreaks in the past have included contaminated frozen strawberries (in 2016) and scallops. Illness usually occurs within 15 to 50 days after eating contaminated food, according to the FDA.

Most people with hepatitis A don't have a prolonged illness, but symptoms can last up to two months and include headache, fatigue, nausea, stomach pain and jaundice. Jaundice causes the skin or eyes to take on a yellow color, and it can also cause dark urine or light-colored stool. 

Unlike other types of hepatitis (like hepatitis C), hepatitis A doesn't typically cause chronic liver damage or chronic illness, but it can cause serious disease in some, including older adults and people with chronic liver diseases.

A CDC investigation into cases of hepatitis of unknown cause in young children is ongoing and isn't currently linked to the investigation of organic strawberries or any other foods. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.