Kroger, Waffle House employees may have spread deadly hepatitis outbreak in Kentucky

The Daily Meal

Nearly 150 people in Kentucky have been diagnosed with hepatitis A and now health officials are confirming the state's first death in the outbreak that has already killed more than 40 others nationwide since early 2017. Food Safety News reports that the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department (ABCHD) is warning about possible exposure to the infection via a Waffle House staffer who worked at two separate locations in Boyd County.

ABCHD public health director Maria Hardy told The Ashland Daily Independent that the employee did not prepare food, but it is still possible for customers and coworkers to have been exposed. Anyone who was at either Waffle House location from February 21 through February 28 is urged to get a vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can take up to 50 days for infected individuals to experience any symptoms. Hepatitis A, which can be transmitted through orally ingesting fecal matter or contaminated food and water or through close personal contact with an infected person, may cause fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice. The agency is currently monitoring outbreaks in California, Michigan, and Utah along with Kentucky.

The Waffle House restaurant owner and employees are reportedly cooperating with local and state health officials to identify everyone the hepatitis A-positive worker came into contact with. The Louisville Courier-Journal had previously reported that the outbreak in Kentucky was centered around Louisville, nearly 200 miles from Boyd County, and that shoppers at a Kroger store there may have been unwittingly exposed by an infected employee.

"Kroger is committed to the health and well-being of all our associates and customers. As a precaution, we ask that produce purchased from the store be discarded and customers who may have consumed that produce should be familiar with the symptoms of Hepatitis A and seek medical attention, if needed," a Kroger spokesperson told The Daily Meal. "We are cooperating fully with local health officials to identify both customers and associates who may be at risk and Kroger will reach out directly to them in the coming days."

Waffle House has also released a statement. Spokesperson Pat Warner told The Daily Meal: ""First of all, we are glad that our associate is doing well and will be fine. Once alerted to the situation, we immediately started working with the local health department to get our associates vaccinated and let people know of the situation. We appreciate the support of the health department and all who have helped our associates during this time."

He also said that the health department has confirmed that nobody has contracted hepatitis A from eating at Waffle House.

For practicing food safety in your own home, meet the "Clean 15": the fruits and vegetables least likely to poison you.

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