Avoiding contaminated food 'very difficult'


Experts say once foods are contaminated with Hepatitis A there's very little people can do to avoid the virus, following reports of hepatitis A cases linked to the Nanna's mixed frozen berries.

Five people in Australia have recently been diagnosed with Hepatitis A after eating frozen berries.

The suspect products, 1kg packs of Nanna's Frozen Mixed Berries, have since been recalled.

Martyn Kirk, an associate professor in Applied Epidemiology at the Australian National University, said there was little people could do to avoid contaminated food.

“It's very difficult to avoid outbreaks by avoidance of food,” he said.

"In general, our food supply is incredibly safe." But Dr Kirk said berries and other and fresh produce had increasingly become a cause of outbreaks, with the former “relatively easily contaminated” through processing.

 Martyn Kirk speaks with Stephanie Anderson:

He said viruses such like Hepatitis A and norovirus were excreted in people's faeces, meaning unhygienic workers or infected water could carry the infection.

“When there's water that contains the viruses through contamination with human sewerage, they can either be on the surface of the berries or, in some instances, there’s evidence for them actually being incorporated into the internal contents."

While the most recent outbreak in Australia involved berries imported from China, Dr Kirk said local food had also been linked to widespread illness.

He said in 2008, oysters produced on the mid-north coast of NSW were responsible for infecting hundreds of people.

“The Wallis Lake oysters were also [carriers of] Hepatitis A,” he said.                                                                                       

“That was a very serious outbreak with 400 people being reported to health departments.”

Food safety advice

Food Safety Information Council spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann today said there were simple steps consumers could take if they came into contact with potentially contaminated berries.

“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," she said.

"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."

Professor Enzo Palombo, a food health and safety expert at Swinburne University of Technology, agreed.

"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."

Buchtmann said the experience served as a timely reminder for people to wash their hands with soap and to dry them thoroughly before handling food.

"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.

"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," she said.

Source: SBS

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