Hepatitis A Outbreak Is a Scary Reminder That Even Organic Fruit Isn't Perfectly Safe

berriesFollowing a widespread Hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen organic berries that sickened 49 people in seven states and put 11 of them in the hospital, one of the victims, Linda Brackenridge, is suing the farm, Townsend Farms in Orgeon, and Costco, where she bought the fruit. She says that after she ate the frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend berries, she began to experience aches, fatigue, and chills. From there, things only got worse, and altohugh doctors hope she will make a full recovery, "they can't say just yet," her lawyers have told the press. How horrible.

In light of the lawsuit and outbreak, there's been a lot of frustration voiced about how this is even more frustrating because the berries were labeled organic. But we seem to have a lot of misconceptions about what that means.

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ABC News notes that the berries promised "reduced exposure to synthetic pesticides," which I'm sure is absolutely TRUE. But what does that have to do with the fruit also being contaminated with the hepatitis A virus? Absolutely nothing. 

I will always choose organic berries (and other fruits that are listed in the Environmental Working Group's "dirty dozen") over conventional, because I do want to avoid pesticides and GMOs. But nothing about an organic label insinuates that the product isn't potentially exposed to viruses or bacteria that can contaminate any food, regardless of how its grown or prepared.

Yes, it's totally freaky and unnerving. Because you'd think that if you were buying organic you might be even more protected against something like this hepatitis A outbreak, but clearly, that's not the case. In fact, there is no FDA-approved test for hepatitis A on food other than green onions, berries aren't tested for the virus, Craig Wilson, vice president of food safety and quality assurance at Costco, told ABCNews.com. That's something that needs to be addressed for all produce -- whether it's grown organic or conventionally.

In the meantime, fingers crossed Brackenridge and the others infected by the berries recover swiftly. With hope, their illnesses and this lawsuit will light a fire under the FDA to do something about bolstering the safety of ALL food.

How do you feel about buying organic vs. conventionally grown produce?

 

Image via Dan McKay/Flickr

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