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Scary berries: how food gets contaminated and what to do (Hepatitis A cases in Australia)

Scary berries: how food gets contaminated and what to do (Hepatitis A cases in Australia)

Australia is currently experiencing a Hepatitis A scare, with so far 9 people thought to have contracted the disease from contaminated frozen berries sourced from China and Chile. This has prompted Martyn Kirk, Convener, Master of Philosophy in Applied Epidemiology at Australian National University to write the following article explaining how berries can become contaminated and what to do:

Of concern is that "Symptoms appear between 15 and 50 days after exposure to the virus, which makes it difficult to identify possible sources." Also because Hepatitis A is caused by a virus, it is hard to treat. One news source mentioned vaccination helping patients get over the infection, but if you have CLL, that may not work that well for you.

Here's a newspaper article on what's been happening:

Given Australia has the right climate to grow these berries, yet sources them from countries with lower labour costs, I've no doubt that your local supermarket may well contain berries sourced from the same countries, even if you can grow them locally. I actually quite enjoy frozen berries and had just finished a pack from the company in question. Thankfully the best before date was prior to those mentioned, but it does make you feel uneasy if you've eaten a questionable product and won't know for nearly 2 months if you're OK. Given we do grow fresh berries locally, I wrongly assumed that frozen berries would also be grown here - I hadn't checked the pack.

Let's hope that the problem is restricted to supplies provided for the Australian market...


Photo: Casuarina (Sheoak) seed cones

7 Replies

Has there been any advice on washing such berries? What sort of washing might remove the contamination?

As much as I like fresh fruit and vegetables, I'm already moving more toward canned, and cooking what we buy fresh - spinach, kale, green beans. Fruit with peels can be peeled carefully after washing vigorously.


If only washing the berries could guarantee that they're then safe, it wouldn't be such an issue, but if the berries are grown in contaminated water, they can incorporate the virus into the plant and hence fruit. I suspect there will be a glut of jam ingredients available as heat seems to be the only way to guarantee the fruit's safety...


Canada just had a recall for listeria... in frozen fruit mix


How naive of me! I was thinking that the infection vector was the handling by contaminated humans.

The next question is, how much heat kills Hepatitis A?

"The virus is killed by heating to >185 degrees F (>85 degrees C) for one minute."

Notice how incidence of Hep A has come down a lot in recent years - because it was associated with IV drug users.

I think I was vaccinated right after Katrina, but my IgG's are below normal.


"Ten billion hepatitis A viruses are excreted per gram of feces. That’s why washing your hands is so important once you’re infected."

Here's a good article on all the the different hepatitis viruses, their symptoms and how some can cause liver cancer:

There are two hepatitis A vaccines (one of which is live) and vaccination is recommended prior travel to countries where it is common. Make certain you get the non-live vaccination!

14 people have now contracted hepatitis A in Australia from frozen berries and with the infection taking up to 50 days to show, there could be many more. Parents with children in child care that have been given frozen berry treats in our hot weather now have a long anxious wait.

And why this scare is unlikely to slow food exports to Australia:



The beginning of a change in frozen food safety?


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