Recalled berries test negative for hepatitis A

17 April 2015 | Patties reports negative hepatitis A test results for Nanna's frozen berries.

Hepatitis A not detected in berries

Australian food manufacturer Patties Foods has reported that tests on its recalled frozen berries from China, thought to be linked with the recent hepatitis A outbreak, have come back negative for the virus.

Patties Foods sent about 360 packs of recalled and non-recalled frozen berries for testing at accredited viral laboratories in Europe, North America and Australia, but neither hepatitis A nor E. coli was detected in any sample.

Steven Chaur, Patties Foods CEO, said in a statement, "Extensive microbiological and viral testing conducted by Patties Foods shows no evidence of systemic failure of Patties Foods' quality assurance programs".

Despite this, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Victoria has advised that 31 hepatitis A cases have now been epidemiologically linked to Nanna's Mixed Berries since the start of the outbreak back in January.

Earlier government testing linked Nanna's frozen berries with hepatitis A

At the start of the hepatitis A outbreak, the DHHS recovered and tested two opened packs of frozen berries from consumers who had contracted the virus. Hepatitis A was detected in one of those two samples. A further eight unopened packs were purchased from supermarkets and tested, and a trace amount of the virus was detected in one.

While these latest test results found no evidence of hepatitis A, Patties Foods has significantly increased protection measures to ensure that any risk is further minimised in future.

"Our microbiological and viral testing does not confirm any link between Nanna's Mixed Berries and hepatitis A. However, we are guided by the epidemiology provided by the DHHS and accordingly have taken proactive and collaborative measures to ensure public safety," said Chaur.

Patties Foods move to make berries safer

Since the potential link between Patties frozen berries and hepatitis A was first notified, Patties has recalled all potential source product, stopped importing from possible sources of the potential contamination, and increased its testing regime to 100% of all containers of its imported frozen berries from all countries, not just China.

"Patties Foods has now adopted a 'positive release' protocol on all its frozen berry products, which means every batch will be tested in Australia for hepatitis A and E.coli, and are only released to market when negative test results are provided. All Nanna's and Creative Gourmet berries now being released to supermarkets have passed this test with nil detection," assured Chaur.

Nanna's and Creative Gourmet mixed berry products won't be sold again until new supply sources have been evaluated.

Better country of origin labelling

The frozen berries scare, and additional research by CHOICE on where our frozen fruit and veggies come from, highlighted the need for a better country of origin labelling system on foods sold in Australia, something we have long campaigned for.

"The good news is that the issue of country of origin labelling is being taken seriously by government. We have met with a number of ministers and advisers in the past month who are committed to a new system. We are now pushing for consumer research to be conducted in the first instance. Listening to consumers first-hand will be key to delivering a more meaningful country of origin labelling system," said Katinka Day, CHOICE policy and campaigns adviser.

"The good news is that the issue of country of origin labelling is being taken seriously by government... Listening to consumers first-hand will be key to delivering a more meaningful country of origin labelling system" – Katinka Day, CHOICE policy and campaigns adviser.

Hepatitis A outbreak – timeline of events

3 Jan 2015 Onset of symptoms for the first case of hepatitis A in Victoria. Second and third cases of hepatitis A in Victoria experience an onset of symptoms on 1 and 6 Feb respectively. Cases are reported to health authorities as they are confirmed.

12 Feb Victorian health authorities confirm a possible association with frozen berries.

13 Feb OzFoodNet, the national food-borne disease surveillance network, is advised of the association and initiates discussion with the implicated company, Patties Foods.

14 Feb Patties recalls Nanna's frozen berries (mixed berries and raspberries) due to potential Hepatitis A contamination.

15 Feb Patties recalls Creative Gourmet mixed berries due to potential microbiological contamination.

20 Feb Patties announces it has initiated further testing of the recalled products from labs in Europe, North America and Australia.

15 Apr Patties reports test results for its frozen berries came back negative for hepatitis A. Despite this, 31 cases Australia-wide have now been epidemiologically linked to the consumption of Nanna's frozen mixed berries, according to the DHHS.