WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - As the number of Hepatitis A cases linked to strawberry smoothies sold at Tropical Smoothie Café locations passed 70 on Thursday, the Center for Disease Control stepped in to the lead the ongoing investigation.
The CDC announced Thursday afternoon that it had linked cases in seven states to the Hepatitis A outbreak that was first discovered earlier this month in Virginia. Investigators believe all the illnesses linked to smoothies began in Virginia, or neighboring states.
Investigators have found seven Hepatitis A cases in Maryland, and believe six were contracted at cafes in that state, the seventh coming from Virginia.
Northern Virginia still has a plurality of the total cases in the outbreak, with 33 recorded cases starting in the region, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Tropical Smoothie Café responded to news of the CDC’s involvement in the investigation with a statement.
“Food safety is Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s top priority, and we are deeply sorry for anyone who may have become ill after visiting one of our Virginia-area cafés. Our first concern is their health and recovery,” the statement read in part. “After being notified by The Virginia Department of Health of possible links between strawberries sourced from Egypt and Hepatitis A, we voluntarily pulled all Egyptian strawberries from our cafes.”
The company also faces multiple lawsuits from customers who became sick after consuming smoothies believed to be tainted by the Hepatitis virus.
Genise Clark, 62, of Virginia Beach is among those suing the company. She told WUSA9 she’s angry they didn’t do more to source their food locally, leading to her diagnosis of Hepatitis A.
“The company could have done a lot better in guaranteeing the safety of products that come from other countries,” Clark said. “I’m an older lady, but I’m not ready to go yet! My immune system is not as strong as younger people’s might be.”