The Virginia Department of Health stated that some cases of Hepatitis A might be linked with frozen strawberries used in smoothies in Tropical Smoothie Cafe stores. The smoothie chain uses strawberries from Egypt that may carry biological substances that led to hepatitis cases.

Officials in the Virginia Department stated that anyone who had strawberries’ smoothies in that chain should be alert and watch for symptoms, which includes fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, dark urine, abdominal pains, and vomiting.

Some cases of Hepatitis A might be linked with frozen strawberries used in smoothies in Tropical Smoothie Cafe stores. Photo credit: My Protein
Some cases of Hepatitis A might be linked with frozen strawberries used in smoothies in Tropical Smoothie Cafe stores. Photo credit: My Protein

What is the link between strawberries and Hepatitis? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hepatitis type A is a highly contagious liver infection, usually transmitted by the fecal-oral route, which can be through person-to-person contact or as the result of the consumption of contaminated food or water.

The theory, in this case, is that strawberries imported from Egypt were produced in crops where the virus was present, transforming the fruit into a carrier of the virus and becoming contaminated food, but fruits in normal conditions do not represent any risk to human health.

Hepatitis A is easily detectable since more than 80 percent of adults with the present virus symptoms, and this problem was discovered by the Virginia Health Department when an unusual amount of people in the area showed symptoms of the illness. Once investigating the causes, health officials found out that the outbreak may have been the result of contaminated fruit in frozen products.

Those cases alerted authorities since the rates of this type of Hepatitis are the lowest they have been in 40 years and are decreasing even more, according to statistics provided by the CDC. Vaccination for this infection is available sin 1995, and the Virginia Health Department encouraged people to go to the closest health care center to receive the vaccine.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe at risk

The chain’s executives stated that the company stopped using strawberries from Egypt in all the stores even outside Virginia, once they received the warning from health authorities. The company also reported that the Hepatitis outbreak had nothing to do with the food handling practices and sanitary standards, and stating this seemed a critical issue for the company since the risk of losing customer’s loyalty might rely entirely on this perception.

“Tropical Smoothie Cafe was notified by the Virginia Department of Health about several foodborne illnesses in the state linked to frozen strawberries sourced from Egypt. Our cafes and their food handling practices have not been implicated in any way – the health department believes this is a single product issue (strawberries) sourced from Egypt. Egyptian strawberries represent a fraction of our overall strawberries purchased and were predominantly distributed to stores in the Virginia market. Today, our strawberries are primarily sourced from Mexico and California. However, in an abundance of caution, we voluntarily pulled all strawberries sourced from Egypt from every cafe in our system, not only the Virginia cafes. Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of our guests and crew members, and we will continue to cooperate with the health authorities,” was the official statement released on the web page of the chain.

“Eat better, feel better” is the slogan of Tropical Smoothie Cafe. The company encourages the healthy lifestyle through its menu and services, which includes the cafes as a franchise and catering services with specific nutrition standards.

The first restaurant opened in 1997 in Florida, and now the chain counts with more than 90 stores, have celebrated their own holiday “National Flip Flop Day”, a holiday registered as a brand itself, and also has a mobile app to reward frequent visitors. This outbreak of Hepatitis is the first health problem linked to the company, and may put their healthy-and-fitness-values at risk.

Whatsoever, Tropical Smoothie Cafe is not the only company under the risk scope. According to the Virginia Health Department, other restaurants and food suppliers may have also received food imported from Egypt, which led the authorities to supervise even more the frozen strawberries’ use in food venues.