STORES: SCARE DIDN'T ICE FROZEN STRAWBERRIES

The hepatitis-A scare has not adversely impacted frozen-strawberry sales or merchandising programs at supermarkets, several retailers told SN.Frozen strawberries remain in the case, and consumers do not appear to be alarmed with the product, retailers report. However, fresh strawberry sales have been adversely affected (see story on Page 25).Though Compton, Calif.-based Ralphs Grocery Co. reportedly

The hepatitis-A scare has not adversely impacted frozen-strawberry sales or merchandising programs at supermarkets, several retailers told SN.

Frozen strawberries remain in the case, and consumers do not appear to be alarmed with the product, retailers report. However, fresh strawberry sales have been adversely affected (see story on Page 25).

Though Compton, Calif.-based Ralphs Grocery Co. reportedly halted orders of Mexican strawberries, retailers contacted by SN have not taken any action in the frozen-food department.

Sources at Ralphs, G&R Felpausch in Michigan, H.G. Hill Stores in Tennessee, Bashas' in Arizona, Dahl's in Iowa and Raley's, Vons and Lucky's in California, said frozen-strawberry programs remain unchanged.

The Food and Drug Administration said the suspect strawberries were distributed in the Detroit area to retailers, wholesalers and restaurants, but the agency didn't release names of recipients, or whether the retailers included supermarkets.

Current information indicates that contaminated berries did not reach retail stores.

"The lots shipped by the manufacturers have been located," said Steve Anderson, president of the American Frozen Food Institute, McLean, Va. "We are not aware of any [contaminated] product at retail."

As reported, frozen strawberries imported from Mexico are suspected of being the source of a hepatitis-A outbreak in Michigan, where the strawberries were served at public schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said tainted strawberries were sent to 17 states.

All containers of the strawberries originating from Andrew & Williamson Sales Co., San Diego, are being recalled by the FDA.

A spokeswoman with the Michigan Department of Community Health said state officials are operating on the assumption that the frozen strawberries, distributed by Detroit-based Caramagno Foods Co., were likely already consumed. These strawberries were distributed in 6.5-pound plastic containers between May 17, 1996 and Dec. 31, 1996.

"We believe at this point, because of the distribution date, that most of these strawberries were consumed some time ago," Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture, said in a statement.

Hepatitis-A is a virus that causes fever, nausea and jaundice, among other symptoms, and is transmitted through fecal contamination of food that is then eaten. The FDA still hasn't determined how the suspect strawberries were contaminated -- by a handler at the San Diego processor, or at the grower level in Mexico.

An agency spokesman said FDA officials have visited the Mexican farm where the strawberries originated, and while tests on soil and berry samples aren't completed, no outward violations of good sanitation practices were found.