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After statewide hepatitis scare, owners of local Tropical Smoothie

After the Va. Dept. of Health said a cluster of hepatitis-A cases could have a connection to some smoothies from Tropical Smoothie Cafe restaurants in Virginia, a couple that owns such stores in Harrisonburg and Staunton took to Facebook to explain their side of the situation. They heard some tough questions and also some hearty support from customers.
The department said the chain's smoothies containing strawberries from Aug. 5 through Aug. 8 could be at risk for contamination and it could take up to 50 days for symptoms to develop.
WHSV's detailed report is online:
Travis and Corri Loan, who own the Port Republic Road location of Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Harrisonburg, spoke on their store's Facebook page and revealed new details. They said, "On August 6th, after being contacted to remove the 'potentially bad' product we received from our local supplier, we did so immediately." The problematic fruit was sourced from a grower in Egypt. "On August 7, we had strawberries in our stores that were sourced from US and Mexico," the store owners said. "We can assure you that our stores have passed health inspections and get rave reviews about our safety and cleanliness procedures."
The owners added:
"We can assure you that our stores have passed health inspections and get rave reviews about our safety and cleanliness procedures. Thankfully... this is NOT a procedure issue, but a potentially bad product issue that was completely out of our control and awareness. Unfortunately, it could have happened anywhere at any store or restaurant.... It has crushed our hearts that people may be scared or afraid that they have eaten a potentially bad product at one of our locations. We feel very fortunate that at this time we know of no confirmed cases have been linked to our stores and are praying for the continued safety for our family, our team members, our customers, our friends."
Customer Brad Driver spoke up in a Facebook reply, "I feel safe and appreciate the very appropriate handling of this situation." Driver added, "I have and will continue to get my favorite tropical smoothies."
Another supporter, Jerri Alley Alexiou, said, "We will continue to enjoy Tropical Smoothie frequently (daily if our daughters had their way) and we feel safe eating at your wonderful restaurant!"
Kimberly Lester had questions:
"I'm wondering, why did I have to hear about it first on the news? Why, even now, is there nothing here on your facebook page about it other than you saying it wasn't your fault? I have your app, which means you guys have my credit card information, AND my email and phone number. You don't hesitate to text me marketing messages. Why wouldn't you have sent me a message about this, especially since I did have one of the potentially contaminated smoothies on the suspect dates. I know you have all of that information in your database, that's how I confirmed for myself what day I was there, by checking the app. I'm also confused on the dates. The news said August 5-8; you say you learned about it on the 6th; so when I had my smoothie on the 8th, it should have been fine, right? Can you tell me if I should be concerned or not?"
Josh Baugher agreed:
"Kimberly, thanks for your post. We have similar feelings. We've visited this location ~30 times, including August 5. It's now too late for preventative measures, according to what I've found on the web (and the health department doesn't have weekend hours)."
Kimberly Lester also added:
"To be clear, I'm not trying to bust your chops; I love TSC, but these are legit questions, and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect you to respond. I trust you with my contact and payment information, I expect you to do the right thing with it. That includes not selling it to crooks, and using it to contact me if my health is at risk because of one of your products."
The owners' reply to those questions sheds light on what happened at the store-level:
"We hear you and appreciate you reaching out. We were first notified on Aug. 6th to pull all strawberries we had in stock from our supplier as a precautionary method. We were told they were not meeting quality control standards and had no idea at that time of the potential link to the food-borne illness, so we pulled them immediately and moved fast to stock our stores with good strawberries. That was all we were told to do at that time. Fast forward to yesterday, we had an urgent conference call with our CEO and all of the franchisees in the system and as soon as we hung up the phone, we started getting calls and messages about the news release already in the media. So in essence, we did not know before the "news got out" if that makes sense?...we spent the entire afternoon and all night having conference calls with our management staff and sending emails to our entire team, fielding calls and messages and responded to news media. We made this post at first possible chance to do so. There will be more communication today sent out through our email chain. We apologize for the delay, but because we are part of a franchise and this is a potential state wide issue, we had to wait to gather correct info before blasting it out. We cannot give medical advice, BUT, we can tell you that if you had a smoothie with strawberries on the 8th, it was made with new and good product. I hope you understand we are doing the best we can and if we can help in any way, let us know OR there is a hotline to call if you are concerned: 1-800-758-6152. Thanks so much for your support - we appreciate your patronage and are praying for the best possible outcome for all involved."
Kimberly Lester replies, "That makes me feel a lot better, both about my personal risk, and how you handled a tough situation."
From there, more supportive messages came in.
Steven Sites said:
"My job takes me around 23 counties of the Commonwealth daily. I am a daily customer of Tropical Smoothie- I make every effort to start my day at the Port Rd store. I have visited approximately 20 stores in Virginia and hands down the best location is Port Rd. This store is always clean, the staff are always polite, and the service is perfect. I have no doubt that Travis and Corri acted quickly to ensure the product served were safe. To date I haven't, nor do I have plans to, slow my consumption of Tropical Smoothie products."
Kari Lugar Harper said:
"You guys keep doing what you're doing! I work in food service and I get several smoothies at TSC a week. You always have a clean store and a friendly staff."
Kathleen Stutzman Pitts said:
"This can happen to anyone. Your store has the best smoothies, food, and customer service we've ever received at a Tropical Smoothie."
Regina Harlow thanked the owners for past public service:
"As the founder and director of the Sadie Rose Foundation, I want to thank you publicly for your awesome support of our 2016 walk, run, and fun day. You all are an amazing part of our community. You've got a lot of people loving and supporting you through this time. And for what it's worth, I bought frozen vegetables from another store this week and yesterday received a notice about a recall on those vegetables for the same reasons. Something like this really can happen to anyone."
The quoted Tropical Smoothie Cafe's Facebook page is:

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