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Hepatitis cases rise to 635 in Beaver County

Thursday, December 04, 2003

By Christopher Snowbeck, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The number of confirmed hepatitis A cases stemming from a Beaver County restaurant outbreak has risen to 635, an increase of 20 since last week.

As the incidence tapers off, the state Department of Health is now updating the overall number of cases once a week, rather than daily. Of the confirmed cases, 560 are Pennsylvania residents, 430 of whom live in Beaver County. Another 75 people from eight other states have confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, an executive with a California produce distributor said yesterday his company was unjustly named in a lawsuit filed this week in connection with the outbreak.

Newstar Fresh Foods of Salinas, Calif., doesn't distribute produce raised by any of the Mexican firms implicated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's investigation into the Beaver County outbreak, said Bob Whitaker, a company vice president.

Newstar and three other U.S. distributors were listed as suppliers to the Beaver Valley Mall Chi-Chi's in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Pittsburgh.

"The guidelines I use with my growers here in Salinas, Calif., are the same as the ones we use in Mexico," where the company owns and leases farmland, Whitaker said. "Our company has not been implicated by FDA."

FDA investigators visited Newstar on Nov. 18, but subsequently cleared the firm after reviewing company information that traced scallion shipments, Whitaker said.

Another distributor named in the lawsuit, Boskovich Farms of Oxnard, Calif., released a statement saying its green onions haven't been implicated by authorities.

A third distributor named in the lawsuit -- Apio Fresh of Guadalupe, Calif. -- issued a statement last month in which it said it was voluntarily withdrawing its green onions from the market. One of the company's green onion suppliers in Mexico had been identified by FDA as potentially -- but not specifically -- connected with the hepatitis outbreaks, the company said.

No spokesman was available from Castellini Co., a Wilder, Ky., distributor also named in the lawsuit.

(Christopher Snowbeck can be reached at or 412-263-2625.)

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