This is one of those “hrm, interesting” kinds of stories, and we will update this post if more information comes available.
The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control first announced that cups of cut pineapple were potentially contaminated with hepatitis A virus (HAV) on September 1st, and the affected product was Western Family fresh pineapple chunks served in ready-to-eat cups.
The product had been prepared on August 11 and in the initial report it had been sent to 38 food stores in British Columbia, which are offering free HAV vaccines to affected patrons. For people who ate the pineapple after August 18, there may still be time for them to get vaccinated for hepatitis A to prevent developing the symptoms.
The virus had been detected in a sample of the fruit and that prompted the notification, however no one appears to have become sick, and the risk of infection is thought to be pretty low.
Five days later, (two days ago), the warning was expanded to include other fruit products sold at 58 stores, such as fruit salads, and they may be unbranded. The investigation is ongoing, and a source of the virus has not been suggested.
HAV-contaminated fruit is not a new thing, though there hasn’t been a lot of precedence involving pineapple. We did find a couple of things.
In one case back in 1994 in Kentucky, an infected food handler at a catering company spread the virus to 91 individuals at a series of catered events, and sliced pineapple was one of a few uncooked foods that person had prepared that was strongly associated with developing illness. In 1971, almost 100 guests at a Hawaiian-themed luau party in California contracted hepatitis (presumed to be hepatitis A, as the virus would not be “discovered” until two years later) after drinking a mai tai punch containing pineapple juice and other ingredients. The punch had been served from a communal, fountain-type bowl and there were no real handwashing facilities on-site.
In both of these older cases, it was thought contaminated hands from an infected individual (who wasn’t necessarily experiencing symptoms) transferred the virus to the food or drink. It would be plausible for hand contamination to be involved in the current events in Canada, since the pineapple chunks may have been cut or packaged by hand, but again, no cause has been given.