Green Onions Associated with Hepatitis A Outbreaks

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The FDA says that raw or lightly cooked green onions (scallions) are associated with an outbreak of hepatitis A, a liver disease, in Pennsylvania and three other states. Ill all attempt to determine the source of the green onions and bow they became contaminated, the FDA has been working closely with the CDC and the states so that the problem can be corrected.

Hepatitis A develops within six weeks of an exposure. It is usually mild and characterized by jaundice yellow skin), fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, and fever. Hepatitis A can occasionally be severe, especially in people with liver disease.

The first outbreak of hepatitis A associated with the onions occurred in September 2003 in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia restaurants. An other outbreak of hepatitis A among patrons of a single restaurant in Pennsylvania occurred during late October and early November.

The FDA is advising consumers to:

• Cook green onions thoroughly: Cook in a casserole or sauté in a skillet.

• Check food purchased at restaurants and delicatessens and ask whether menu items contain raw or lightly cooked green onions. Request that raw or lightly cooked green onions not be added to foods.

The FDA has alerted inspectors at the Mexican border to detain any raw green onions from a small number of implicated firms. Mexican officials have been very responsive during the outbreak investigation and are investigating practices all these firms to determine what might have caused the contamination.

Regulations being developed under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 give the agency, new authority to help improve its ability to contain and prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness. These new regulations and increased presence at the border will help enhance the agency's food safety and security measures.

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