Advice to boil all imported frozen berries for at least one minute has been re-issued by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, following the publication of a European report which found that contaminated berries could still be circulating in the food chain.
Hepatitis A-contamination of mixed frozen berries and berry products was first identified in May of last year and was linked with travel to Italy. Since then, 1,440 cases have been reported in twelve European countries with 331 of those confirmed by genotyping. Some 21 cases have been confirmed here.
The Food Safety Authority said it was also concerned that a few Irish cases of hepatitis A have been reported in the past month which could not be explained by travel abroad. The authority is investigating the cases to see if there is a link with contaminated imported frozen berries or other foods.
Hepatitis A symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue and abdominal pain, followed by jaundice. It can be mild lasting up to a fortnight, or more server, lasting several months.
Despite a European-wide trace-back investigation, no single point source of berry contamination has been identified yet but 12 food operators had been identified with links to cases and batches in five of the countries affected. The European investigation found that Bulgarian blackberries and Polish redcurrants were the most common ingredient in the food consumed by affected people but noted that Poland was the largest producer of redcurrants in Europe and Bulgaria was a major exporter of frozen blackberries.
The Food Safety Authority's chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said the outbreak highlighted just how complex the food chain could be. "No single point source of contamination has been identified, despite the trace-back investigations which looked at 6,227 transactions among 1,974 food businesses," he said.
Prof Reilly said there was no evidence that fresh Irish berries were the cause of the outbreak. “However, we suggest that - as with all other fruit and vegetables - fresh berries should be washed thoroughly if they are being eaten uncooked.”
He noted that frozen imported berries were widely used in the food industry and said food businesses using frozen imported berries needed to ensure that the berries they used were sourced from reputable suppliers with comprehensive food safety management and traceability systems in place.
Consumers with food safety queries can call the FSAI’s advice line on 1890 336677