News from Hepatitis Week of October 19, 2003 / Vol. 3 No. 42
Green Onions Believed Responsible for Hepatitis A Outbreak

A bad batch of packaged green onions used at restaurants appears to be responsible for hepatitis A outbreaks that sickened more than 280 people in Georgia and Tennessee.

Georgia health officials said the onions were probably contaminated before they were shipped to several restaurants in Georgia and one in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Although it is possible that farm workers infected with the virus may have handled the food, Susan Lance-Parker, an epidemiologist with the Georgia Division of Public Health, said it is more likely that the vegetables were rinsed in water from an unsafe source.

The outbreak involved 210 people in the Atlanta area and 73 people in Knoxville. The Knoxville cases are linked to an O'Charley's restaurant. Georgia officials have declined to name the restaurants linked to cases in that state.

Health officials were not sure if the restaurants washed the onions before serving them, but they noted that washing does not always remove the virus, especially in layered foods like onions.

About a dozen recent cases of hepatitis A in Asheville, North Carolina, also may be related.

Lance-Parker emphasized the importance of washing fruits and vegetables at home to remove potentially harmful viruses and bacteria, noting that washing definitely reduces the risk of hepatitis A.

Other sources: Atlanta Constitution (October 11, 2003)