Increased surveillance of imported frozen berry products

Date:
Media contact: MPI media team
Telephone: 029 894 0328

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Director General has issued a statement warning of a potential risk associated with imported frozen berries, following 4 human cases of Hepatitis A thought to be linked to packaged imported frozen berries.

MPI's Chief Executive statement issued under the Food Act 2014 [PDF, 723 KB]

The Ministry has instituted a surveillance programme, including additional testing, focussed on imported frozen berries.

The Ministry's Director of Plants, Food and Environment, Peter Thomson says the safety of consumers is MPI's number one priority in taking the new measures.

“Our investigations to date have not revealed a specific cause, but there is an association with consuming imported frozen berries. Recent outbreaks in other countries also suggest this link.

“We are giving a very high priority to instigating a testing programme that will provide increased surveillance of imported frozen berries. This will include previously imported stocks held by food companies here.

“In the meantime the general advice about food safety applies. People should wash their hands before eating and preparing food. Anyone who is concerned should briefly boil any frozen berries before eating them, or ensure cooking exceeds 85 degrees Celsius for one minute.  

“Elderly persons and those with chronic liver damage should avoid frozen berries that have not been heat treated.

“If you are concerned about a potential risk to your health, or the health of others, you should seek advice from your medical practitioner, or call the Ministry of Health's Healthline – 0800 61 11 16.

“If you are concerned about the safety of food products, contact the MPI consumer helpline (0800 00 83 33).”


Questions and answers

What should I do if I have frozen berries at home?

Elderly persons and those with chronic liver damage should avoid frozen berries that have not been heat treated.

Bringing frozen berries briefly to the boil will deal with any potential risk, as will cooking for 85degC for at least 1 minute. Washing frozen berries will not remove the risk.

As with any kind of food, if you are in any doubt, throw it away.

If you are concerned about a potential risk to your health, or the health of others, you should seek advice from your medical practitioner, or call the Ministry of Health's Healthline (0800 61 11 16).

Is there any risk in eating fresh berries?

Our investigations have not implicated fresh berries.

Should people keep eating products made from frozen berries like "real fruit" icecream and smoothies?

Evidence to date does not suggest any link with frozen berries used as ingredients in commercially prepared and packaged products sold with a shelf-life claim. Ingredients for such products are typically subject to a heat treatment step during the manufacturing process.

Frozen berries are often used as an ingredient in cafes and restaurants to prepare smoothies and other items as ready-to-eat products for sale to consumers. The risks associated with these items are the same as for home-made products. Heat treatment of the frozen berries prior to use will address any potential risk.

We will be monitoring all frozen berry ingredients used in commercial products as part of our surveillance programme.

Elderly persons and those with chronic liver damage should avoid frozen berries that have not been heat treated.

What can importers and retailers do to manage the risks for consumers?

Many importers are already requiring their overseas suppliers to provide evidence of testing for organisms that indicate contamination (for example, E. coli) or in some cases Hepatitis A virus itself. Heightened consumer interest associated with the MPI statement will mean importers, producers and retailers of these products may need to provide consumers with this information, for instance on their company websites or advertising.   

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a foodborne and waterborne viral disease that is spread through contact with the faeces of an infected person, close contact with an infected person or sharing personal things like towels and toothbrushes.

How is it spread?

Hepatitis A is spread through contact with the faeces of an infected person.

It can be passed on through:

  • poor personal hygiene – when people don’t wash their hands properly
  • contaminated food from an infected food handler
  • close personal contact
  • sharing personal things with an infected person – like toothbrushes, facecloths or towels.
  • contaminated water or milk.

How do I know if I've caught Hepatitis A? What are the symptoms?

Symptoms to look out for are:

  • fever
  • skin jaundice (yellowish tinge)
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pains
  • dark coloured urine
  • fatigue.

If you've caught hepatitis A, it will take 15 to 50 days for the symptoms to show up.

Early symptoms of Hepatitis A infection can be mistaken for the flu. Some people, especially children, may have no symptoms at all.

See your doctor or call Healthline on 0800 61 11 16 for advice if you think you might have Hepatitis A. If your doctor has concerns, there is a test available.

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