Hep A in frozen berries again


By Janette Woodhouse
Wednesday, 07 June, 2017


Hepatitis A contamination in frozen berries is not a new problem. In 2015 berries sourced from China and Chile and repackaged at Patties Foods’ Victorian facility were implicated for causing a hepatitis A outbreak and in New Zealand Fruzio Mixed Berries were recalled due to hepatitis. While in 2016 frozen strawberries from Egypt sickened 140 people in the US.

Now it is happening again.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has alerted consumers to a food recall of a frozen mixed berries product that is potentially linked to three hepatitis A cases.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable foodborne disease. It should be mandatory for foodservice workers to be vaccinated so they can’t get the disease themselves nor be able to pass the disease on.

However, in the cases of frozen berries it is not the local foodservice personnel passing on the disease. The berries are almost always sourced overseas where the hygiene and sanitation practices are somewhat dubious. Those with hepatitis A are infectious for about two weeks before they develop symptoms so they can be handling food and spreading disease before they are even aware they are ill. Mind you, as the virus is spread through faecal-oral routes, simple handwashing would be beneficial.

The other possibility is that the water used in washing the fruit has been faecally contaminated.

Both options are pretty unsavoury.

While public health agencies are still testing the product to determine if frozen mixed berries are the cause in this latest outbreak, the supplier, Creative Gourmet, has initiated a consumer-level recall of the product.

FSANZ asserts, “Consumers should not be concerned about purchasing or consuming any other frozen berry brands or batches of Creative Gourmet product. The berries in question were imported in early 2015 and there is no evidence of cases of hepatitis A associated with imported berries since border controls were put in place in February 2015.”

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