“What began as a contaminated batch of frozen strawberries has now snowballed into a trade war with the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Kenya.”
-Daily News Egypt

Over 100 Infected with Hepatitis A by Egyptian Strawberries in Tropical Smoothie Cafe Outbreak

At this point, most consumers know about the outbreak of Hepatitis A linked to Tropical Smoothie Cafe drinks made with frozen strawberries. The outbreak involves a total of 129 cases reported in eight states. Virginia, the epicenter of the outbreak, confirmed 104 cases as of September 25th.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe imported the source of the outbreak – the frozen strawberries used in the smoothies – from Egypt. According to the company, it removed all Egyptian frozen strawberries from its Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia locations by August 8th. Tropical Smoothie Cafe reports it subsequently switched to another supplier for all restaurants nationwide.

Egyptian Strawberry Imports Banned Until 2013

Perhaps the most remarkable fact is that only three years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continued to prohibit U.S. imports of Egyptian strawberries. As a result, any outbreak caused by Egyptian strawberries would have required participants (such as importers and exporters) to engage in illegal activities.

Why?

Until February 27, 2013, US imports of Egyptian strawberries were not approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The approval followed the mandatory publication of a pest risk assessment on imports of Egyptian strawberries. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service concluded that any risks would be negated, and elected to allow the imports.

Interestingly, the decision came in a year when the US and Spain were the world leaders in strawberry exports, begging the obvious question: “if the US produces enough strawberries to export some of them, why are we buying additional strawberries from other countries?”

US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson stated that the US was “committed to continuing to work with the Egyptian authorities to increase market opportunities for Egyptian exports,” while a statement on the Egyptian Embassy website indicated that granting Egypt access to the American market was “a testament to the high quality of Egyptian strawberry experts.”

Early Warning Signs of Hepatitis in Egyptian Produce

Despite Egypt’s enthusiastic endorsement of the quality of their strawberry exports, evidence to the contrary soon began to emerge. In June 2015, an article published in The Lancet reported “frozen or fresh strawberries” had been implicated as “the vehicle of infection” in two separate outbreaks of Hepatitis A in the European Union. According to The Lancet article, the European outbreaks emphasized the increased risk of Hepatitis A infections related to fresh and frozen berries.

Frozen strawberries imported from Egypt and Morocco caused the first outbreak, while the second outbreak affected travelers returning from Egypt. In the second case, “the implicated fresh strawberries were most likely locally produced.

Countries React: Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE Among Countries to Ban or Restrict Imported Egyptian Strawberries

The Health Ministry in Bahrain “temporarily halted the import” of strawberries and food items from Egypt “to ensure safety.” In addition, the Ministry instructed food control inspectors at border checkpoints to take samples of imported strawberries for laboratory tests.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) halted import of some vegetables and fruits from Egypt after tests “earlier this year proved they are unsuitable for human consumption,” with officials pointing out that the SFDA “began making notes on agricultural products that come from some countries, including Egypt, before” the USDA did.

Russia elected to suspend all fruit and vegetable imports from Egypt as of September 22nd, citing health concerns as the reason for the ban. Many Egyptian politicians believe that in reality the act is retaliation for Cairo’s rejection of an imported Russian wheat shipment, with Moscow accusing Egypt of “haggling as a market strategy by halting the import of wheat.”

A statement from the Industry and Trade Ministry to Sudan’s state news agency, SUNA, indicated that the country has banned imported fruit, vegetables, and fish from Egypt until “after laboratory tests are complete to guarantee safety.”

“The UAE has also implemented tightened controls on Egyptian fruit imports and Jordan is carrying out investigations on whether the fruit from Egypt should be allowed into the country.”

If you or a family member became ill have been diagnosed with Hepatitis A and you would like to explore pursuing a legal claim, contact a Hepatitis A attorney at Ron Simon & Associates for a free case evaluation by calling 1-888-335-4901 or filling out our free case evaluation form. Attorneys at Ron Simon & Associates have represented victims in past hepatitis A outbreaks nationwide as well as victims of the current Tropical Smoothie Cafe outbreak.