Tropical Smoothie Cafe Employee Diagnosed With Hepatitis A, Says Virginia Department of Health

Health department says 28 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A have been linked to franchises in Virginia

What to Know

  • The employee works at the Tropical Smoothie Café location in Gainesville.
  • The health department has said 28 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A have been linked to café franchises in Virginia.
  • The news comes a day after a Virginia man who says he contracted Hepatitis filed a $100,000 lawsuit against Tropical Smoothie Café.

An employee at a Tropical Smoothie Café location in Virginia has been diagnosed with hepatitis A, the Virginia Department of Health said Friday.

The health department is investigating 35 confirmed cases of hepatitis A connected to Tropical Smoothie Café franchises in Virginia. The virus was linked to frozen strawberries used at the stores.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the employee was among the cases already confirmed. The health department does not yet know how that employee, who works at the location on Stonewall Square in Gainesville, became sick.

Through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the department is working to genotype the virus on the strawberries, as well as the virus carried by anyone who might be connected to the café and sick individuals, to try to trace the connection, said Alison Ansher, health director at the Virginia Department of Health in Prince William County.

Officials are warning that anyone who consumed anything -- food or drink -- at the Gainseville location between July 28 and Aug. 18 may have been exposed to hepatitis A.

If it's been less than two weeks since possible exposure, those people should get preventative vaccines as a safety measure, Ansher said.

The owners of the cafe said they have taken extra precautions to make sure their food is safe.

"We sanitized our cafes, we maintain good safety protocols, we re-certified our employees on food safety handling," said Dennis Drake, owner of the Gainesville store. "And so it's disturbing that this can happen within our cafe.

"This is a good brand," Drake said. "And the items and products that you have continued to get from us over the years -- we'll do all that we can to ensure that the product is safe."

The store remains open.

The news comes a day after a Virginia man filed a $100,000 lawsuit against Tropical Smoothie Café.

According to the lawsuit, the man became ill with Hepatitis A and was hospitalized after drinking smoothies from a franchise location in Purcellville, Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Health says the hepatitis A virus matches that of a virus previously found in frozen strawberries imported from Egypt. The strawberries were used in smoothies in July or early August.

The health department confirmed that all the potentially contaminated berries were pulled from the 96 Tropical Smoothie Café locations in Virginia no later than Aug. 8 or Aug. 9. There are more than 500 franchises across the country.

Health officials are encouraging anyone who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries at a restaurant in the last 50 days to watch for symptoms of hepatitis A. Those include jaundice, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools.

Those who consumed smoothies from a Tropical Smoothie Café in Virginia that contained frozen strawberries on Aug. 5, 6, 7 or 8, 2016, may still benefit from vaccine or immune globulin to prevent hepatitis A, the health department has said.

The World Health Organization says almost everyone fully recovers from the liver disease. Symptoms include yellowing of the skin or eyes, fever and nausea.

Tropical Smoothie Café CEO Mike Rotondo has issued an apology.

Below is a full statement from Tropical Smoothie Café:

"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."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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