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Would you like some Hepatitis A with that?

Hundreds of restaurants are under scrutiny after Hepatitis A was recently found in sushi and smoothies in both Hawaii and Virginia.

Brenda Garcia was dining at Genki Sushi  in Hawaii, when she heard the news.  “This is going to be the last call.  Just finish up your food…we’re closing down,” an employee said.  At that point, Garcia, along with the other patrons who were dining in the sushi restaurant did not know why they were being asked to leave.  It was soon discovered, however, that Hepatitis A had been discovered in the restaurant’s food products.

Just days ago, it was discovered that the scallops distributed to both Nevada and California have been linked to the Hawaii outbreak. 

Since the outbreak was first reported at sushi restaurants in Oahu and Kauai, Hawaii, the Honolulu Star reported that 168 people have been infected with Hepatitis A – Hawaii’s worst outbreak in more than two decades.  Some customers were outraged that they were not immediately told why the restaurants had been shut down.  “Nobody said anything… They were just saying that the belt was broken.  But [they] still got guys eating there, so I don’t know,” customer Charly Borce told KGMB news.  Because sushi is usually consumed raw, the Hawaii State Department of Health has since found that the outbreak is probably due to imported frozen scallops that were served raw at Genki Sushi in Hawaii.

Just days ago, it was discovered that the scallops distributed to both Nevada and California have been linked to the Hawaii outbreak.  Sea Port Products Corp. is the company that has supplied the contaminated scallops to various restaurants and has since voluntarily recalled three batches of its scallops.  This was a wise decision, especially since the number of those infected with Hepatitis A continues to rise.  On August 21, that number was 206, and it has potential to grow.

So far, there have been a total of 10 Hepatitis A cases in connection with strawberries at Tropical Smoothie Cafés in Virginia. 

The presence of Hepatitis A in food has prompted an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Since the first case was reported on August 17, these federal agencies have been working alongside Sea Port Products to ensure that the contaminated scallops are removed from its shelves.  The FDA website also instructs consumers on how they can avoid contracting Hepatitis A, and who is most at risk for serious harm if they were to contract the virus.

Scallops do not seem to be the only food that has recently been contaminated with Hepatitis A.  Just last week, the Virginia Department of Health found that those who consumed smoothies containing strawberries from Tropical Smoothie Café restaurant in Virginia between August 5-8, would benefit from a Hepatitis A vaccine.  So far, there have been a total of 10 Hepatitis A cases in connection with strawberries at Tropical Smoothie Cafés in Virginia.  Virginia’s Department of Health linked the contaminated strawberries to a supplier in Egypt.  Tropical Smoothie has since withdrawn from their Egypt supplier and found an alternate supplier.

According to the Center for Disease Control, Hepatitis A is a liver infection that is highly contagious.  It is usually transmitted orally by fecal matter.

So what is Hepatitis A?  When we were younger, many of us have memories of being vaccinated before entering school.  For those of us who have travelled outside of the United States, we may have received other vaccinations that would keep us healthy in other countries.  It is likely that a vaccination for Hepatitis A has been among the vaccinations that many of us have received.

According to the Center for Disease Control, Hepatitis A is a liver infection that is highly contagious.  It is usually transmitted orally by fecal matter.  This can occur either from person-to-person contact or by consumption of contaminated food or water.  The CDC goes on to say that Hepatitis A is a self-limiting disease, meaning that it does not result in chronic infection, and once someone has had Hepatitis A, the body produces antibodies which last for life and protect against reinfection.  Although not everyone shows symptoms of Hepatitis A, symptoms can include fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-colored urine, and jaundice.  While adults often show more symptoms than children, the incubation period is usually 14-28 days.  This means that some individuals will not begin to show symptoms for up to a month after exposure.

“We estimate that over 10,000 people need to be vaccinated to prevent an even larger disaster,”

Usually, with restaurant contamination, lawsuits follow, and this Hepatitis A outbreak has been no different.  A man in Oahu, Hawaii was the first to file a lawsuit against the sushi restaurant, Genki Sushi, and against the food supplier, Sea Port Products, who supplied the scallops.  The man has alleged that he contracted Hepatitis A after eating scallops from the restaurant, and that he is owed damages.  A class action lawsuit has also been filed that is alleging negligence on the part of not only Genki Sushi, but also their distributor, Koha Foods, and importer, Sea Port Products Corp.  As the number of infected individuals continues to rise (228 at last check), attorneys handling the class action lawsuit estimate that the number of people affected could reach 10,000 before the case is over.  Attorney Bill Marler who has filed the class action lawsuit believes that this Hepatitis A outbreak will continue to make headlines.

“This is quickly becoming one of the largest Hepatitis A outbreaks in U.S. history. Given the number of people that consumed scallops at Genki Sushi and became ill and worked at other restaurants on the islands, we estimate that over 10,000 people need to be vaccinated to prevent an even larger disaster,” Marler said.  Although this latest outbreak is making national news, this is not the first time Hepatitis A has been found in places it does not belong.  Back in 2013 Townsend Farms faced multiple lawsuits after its organic berries and pomegranate seed mix was found to been contaminated with the virus.  Just last year, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 2,000 people against Hardees, after an employee who tested positive for Hepatitis A continued to work at the restaurant and prepare food during his infection.

Several organizations including the ALF, have made public health recommendations in an effort to stop the spread of Hepatitis A. 

Despite the sanitary regulations that are in place, every year 1 in 6 Americans are diagnosed with a food-related sickness, while approximately 128,000 Americans are hospitalized, and nearly 3,000 people die from these types of illnesses.  Some food handlers continue to have poor hygiene, which increases the risk to restaurant patrons.  The American Liver Foundation (ALF) urges the public to wash hands, prepare food carefully (cooking food at greater than 185 degrees F kills Hepatitis A), and to get vaccinated.

Several organizations including the ALF, have made public health recommendations in an effort to stop the spread of Hepatitis A.  Some of these recommendations include routine vaccination for children, individuals who plan to travel, and those with chronic liver disease.  In addition to this, the ALF recommends that food handlers, military and day care personnel, as well as health care workers and consumers of high-risk foods, i.e. raw shellfish, should be required to vaccinated.

Despite efforts, contracting the Hepatitis A virus still remains a legitimate concern in the United States.  It remains to be seen whether efforts by various organizations will truly have an impact on containment or even potential eradication of Hepatitis A.

Kendra Alleyne, Associate Editor
About Kendra Alleyne, Associate Editor (17 Articles)
Kendra Alleyne is a third year law student and serves as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer. She is from Lynchburg, Virginia and graduated from Liberty University for a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Over the summer following her first year of law school, Kendra worked as a legal internship at Colon & Associates, where she is currently still interning. Kendra also serves as the Public Relations Chair for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
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