Green onions from Mexico caused the hepatitis A outbreak in Pennsylvania as well as earlier outbreaks in Tennessee and Georgia, according to federal authorities.
The contaminated onions are believed to have caused 605 cases of hepatitis A and three deaths in the Pittsburgh area. More than 300 people were stricken in outbreaks earlier this fall in Georgia and Tennessee.
As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has alerted inspectors at the border to detain any raw green onions from the small number of Mexican firms implicated in the outbreak.
According to the FDA, Mexican officials have been very responsive during the outbreak investigation and are investigating practices at these firms to determine what might have contributed to the contamination.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a November 22 news conference in Pittsburgh that people should not eat green onions right now or at least be sure they are cooked thoroughly until "we're confident the problem has been resolved."
The FDA also advised consumers to cook green onions thoroughly and to ask at restaurants whether menu items contain raw or lightly cooked green onions. For those wishing to avoid green onions, the FDA said they should specifically request that they not be added to their food.
The FDA said it is also developing regulations that would give the agency new authority to help improve its ability to contain and prevent outbreaks.
Other sources: FDA, Pittsburgh Post Gazette (November 23, 2003)