Frozen berries update: risk statement
Following the hepatitis A outbreak earlier this year, thought to be linked to frozen berry imports, the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand agency (FSANZ) has released a risk statement on the issue to the Department of Agriculture, the enforcement agency for imported food.
FSANZ completed the risk statement on hepatitis A virus and imported ready-to-eat (RTE) berries concluding that the virus in RTE berries produced and handled under Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Hygienic Practices (GHP) is not a medium to high risk to public health.
FSANZ stated they used an internationally recognised approach for assessing food safety risks which involved looking at the likelihood of a food safety issue occurring and the consequence of such an issue, as well as other mitigating factors such as whether the product is likely to be cooked or not.
Some of the factors based on this conclusion include:
- Regulatory authorities around the world agree that hepatitis A virus contamination is best managed through good quality agriculture and hygiene practices throughout the supply chain.
- While historically six reported outbreaks of the virus associated with RTE berries have occurred worldwide, the frequency of outbreaks is extremely low based on the quantity of berries sold, traded and consumed globally.
- Hepatitis A infection can be incapacitating but is not usually life-threatening and long-term effects are rare.
- Unlike some microorganisms like bacteria, hepatitis A virus doesn’t grow in food, so levels won’t increase during processing, transport and storage, and many foods considered medium to high risk are foods that are associated with the kinds of microorganisms that can quickly multiply in food.
What is being done to ensure all recalled product is off the shelves?
FSANZ stated that in Australia, state and territory regulatory authorities are responsible for working with the manufacturer or producer to ensure stock is removed from shelves and Victorian authorities, who are managing this recall, are also conducting testing on affected products.
What does this mean for importers of ready-to-eat berries?
The Department of Agriculture issued an Imported Food Notice in response to FSANZ’s advice. From 19 May 2015, importers of berries from any country must be able to demonstrate the product has been sourced from a farm using good agricultural practices. Additionally, good hygienic practices must be evident throughout the supply chain; and if not, then the berries could be considered to pose a potential risk to human health.
For more information, visit http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx.
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