An outbreak of hepatitis A in Australia has been linked to imported frozen berries from China.
ABC News reports that up to nine people in have become sick with the disease prompting a recall of products including mixed berries frozen pack from Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet brands.
Our colleagues at the Australian SMC collected the following expert commentary. Feel free to use these quotes in your reporting. If you would like to contact a New Zealand expert, please contact the SMC (04 499 5476; email@example.com).
Professor Enzo Palombo, food health and safety expert and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology at Swinburne University of Technology, comments:
“In this situation, the most likely culprit is poor hygiene at the site of production. Hepatitis A is transmitted by the so-called ‘faecal-oral’ route, i.e. an infected person sheds the virus in their faeces which then contaminates food or water. So, good old-fashioned hand hygiene is the best way to stop transmission. The virus either directly contaminates the food though a food handler not washing their hands properly or it could come from contaminated water used to wash the berries.
“Freezing is not going to eliminate the problem. While the virus does not grow in the frozen food, it still remains infectious and is essentially preserved during transport. Heating would kill the virus so if the berries were used in a cooked food (i.e. fruit tart), it would likely render the virus harmless (but I would not recommend it!). The problem would be if the berries were to be consumed without cooking (e.g. in a smoothie).”
Lydia Buchtmann, spokesperson for the Food Safety Information Council, comments:
“We are warning consumers to check their freezers for Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet frozen mixed berries which have been voluntarily recalled due to a link to Hepatitis A infections. These berries should be returned to the place of purchase for a refund or discarded. A few people have asked if they could be cooked, which would technically kill a virus, but this shouldn’t been done because of risks in handling the product. Health authorities are advising that if you have consumed these products and show symptoms, such as fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and jaundice (dark urine and yellowing of the eyes), to see a doctor immediately to ensure you don’t spread the Hepatitis A virus to others.
“This is a timely reminder to ensure you always wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before handling food. Also, if you are travelling overseas to countries where Hepatitis A is more prevalent than in Australia check with your doctor about vaccinations, only drink bottled water and eat food that has been cooked and fruit that can be peeled.”