TED S. WARREN, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — Costco is offering to refund the cost of hepatitis A vaccinations or provide the vaccination free of charge at a Costco pharmacy to customers who consumed a now-recalled batch of contaminated frozen berries.
Craig Wilson, Costco's vice president of quality insurance, food safety and merchandise services, said the company used membership records and receipts to contact customers who purchased the recalled berries since February.
"If anyone has a concern, they should get to their personal health care provider," Wilson said.
The berries, an Organic Antioxidant Blend from Oregon-based Townsend Farms, have been linked to dozens of cases of hepatitis A across the country, including four confirmed cases in Utah.
Wilson said he could not confirm that 100 percent of purchasers of the product were contacted, but the company made multiple attempts to inform members of the recall and the potential need for vaccinations.
"Wednesday afternoon I sent out another message to 250,000 folks to remind them about the recall," he said.
Utah Department of Health officials confirmed the local cases of hepatitis A, which included two individuals in Davis County and one each in Kane and Utah counties. The contaminated berries are believed to have originated in multiple locations, including Argentina, Chile and Turkey, and are being blamed for an outbreak of the highly contagious liver disease.
Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said symptoms typically manifest between 50 and 60 days after exposure to the virus. In most cases, hepatitis A will run its course like other viral diseases, he said, but it can lead to liver failure in individuals with pre-existing conditions or a compromised immune system.
Symptoms include jaundice, abdominal pain, pale stool and dark urine, Hudachko said.
"It’s important if you’ve got these symptoms that you see your health care provider," he said.
Bill Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer, recently filed a class-action lawsuit against Townsend Farms in California. He said his office has been contacted by approximately 400 people who received vaccinations as a result of purchasing the frozen berries, and only about half of those were contacted by Costco.
"To me, the interesting thing is this is really an international outbreak," Marler said. "It’s not just eight states."
Marler, who has been involved in several foodborne hepatitis A lawsuits, said the class-action suit is broad enough to include anyone who received a vaccination after buying the berries, a number he estimates at possibly more than 100,000 people.
He said the lawsuit does not target Costco, the product's distributor, because ultimately the responsibility for contamination lies with the producer or manufacturer.
"This is a frozen, bagged product that Costco sells," Marler said. "The buck really stops at Townsend Farms."
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