Numerous news reports have been coming out of eastern Australia in the last couple of days about people becoming sick with hepatitis A. There have been nine confirmed cases so far: two cases in New South Wales, three in Victoria, and four in Queensland.
The only common link between these people is that most of them, including the three in Victoria and the two in New South Wales, recalled eating Nanna’s brand Frozen Mixed Berries, which had been imported and distributed by Patties Foods Ltd., based in Victoria. Victoria’s Chief Health Officer issued an alert on Friday after the fourth case was confirmed, and the distributor issued a recall of the product the next day. On Sunday, Patties Foods widened their recall to include their Creative Gourmet line as a precautionary measure. The CEO of Patties Foods explained that their routine quality control testing had not found problems with their products, but that they were carrying out additional diagnostics and the company decided to pull all of their frozen berries until the testing was finished.
Specifically, the recall applies to 1kg packages of Nanna’s Frozen Mixed Berries, and 300g and 500g packages of Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries. The Best Before dates on the packages are November 22, 2016, December 10, 2017, and October 6, 2017, respectively. The affected supermarkets are pulling the products from their stores, and consumers have been asked to throw the berries away or return them for a refund.
The recalled products contain strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. The strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries were from China and the blueberries were from Chile, which were all packaged in China before being shipped to Australia. It is currently hypothesized that the contamination may have occurred in China, as the packages were sealed before they were shipped to Australia, and HAV is endemic in China. According to one report, Patties Foods began importing berry products from a supplier in China back in December.
Public health officials in Australia are expecting to see more cases in the coming days to weeks, during which time they will also come understand the true size and nature of the outbreak. The incubation period for hepatitis A virus (HAV) can be quite variable, spanning around two to seven weeks, but most people who develop symptoms do so within a month of coming into contact with the virus. Public health officials are suggesting people only get tested for HAV if they are having symptoms, which can include abdominal pain, fatigue, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and a fever.
Feb. 18th UPDATE: There have now been at least 13 confirmed cases, and it is believed the fruits were distributed across the entire country. The recall has been extended to include Nanna’s Fresh Frozen Raspberries, and it has been hypothesized that raspberries may have been the source of the contamination. The distributor says it no longer uses its raspberry supplier in China.
To illustrate how a foodborne disease can affect a number of people in different settings, there have been several schools and daycare facilities in Australia that are concerned their students consumed the berries, either as snacks or in cooking class. Additionally, out of safety concerns for blood recipients, the Red Cross has been forced to quarantine some if its donated blood and has received over 100 calls from donors who ate the berries. The Red Cross is also not allowing people who ate the berries to donate blood for two months.
Feb. 21st UPDATE: The number of cases is now up to 18, after four more cases were identified, two in New South Wales and two in Queensland. Additionally, the Red Cross decided to lift their ban on blood donations, when a risk assessment suggested that the risk of contaminating the blood supply was low. People who ate the berries may now donate blood, provided that they stay well.
Mar. 4th UPDATE: The number of cases is now up to 26, and while test results for HAV are still pending on the berries, eating Nanna’s Mixed Berries has been the only common connection among the cases.