Monday, July 15, 2024

Pams frozen berries recalled as Hep A investigation continues

Foodstuffs Own Brands Ltd has announced a recall of various Pams brand frozen berry products due a possible link to recent cases of Hepatitis A.

New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general, Vincent Arbuckle said the recall was being announced as a precaution.

He said the New Zealand Food Safety investigation into the source of the illness continues and existing advice to heat treat all frozen berries remains.

The recall affects all batches and date ranges of the following products:

  • Pams Frozen Mixed Berries 500g
  • Pams Frozen Two Berry Mix 1kg
  • Pams Frozen Two Berry Mix 750g
  • Pams Frozen Smoothie Berry Mix 500g
  • Pams Raspberries 500g
  • Pams Raspberries 350g.

The products are being removed from New World, Pak’n Save and Four Square stores nationwide, and from Trents and Raeward Fresh stores in the South Island.

Mr Arbuckle says there are currently 12 Hepatitis A cases in the community linked to the consumption of frozen berries.

“So far, eight of the 12 cases are linked by genetic sequencing, meaning they were likely exposed to the same source of the virus. Seven of the 12 cases have been hospitalised,” he said.

“We’re encouraging people to look in their freezers to see if they have any of the recalled product. People who have these products at home should not eat them raw. Bringing them to the boil will make them safe, or they can be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund.

“It is important to note the situation is still evolving and the picture could change. Our advice to all consumers in the meantime is to continue to exercise care and take extra precautions at home by heat treating frozen berries to kill the virus.

“Until and unless a definitive source is identified, this advice applies to all frozen berry products. Hepatitis A remains relatively rare in New Zealand – the 12 cases linked to frozen berries account for half of the reported cases in the country so far this year.”

New Zealand Food Safety’s advice to consumers is to:

  • Briefly boil frozen berries before eating them, or if you have a thermometer at home, ensure cooking temperatures exceed 85 degrees Celsius for 1 minute. Heated berries can be safely refrozen for later use.
  • If you microwave berries, you should stir at half-way through the cooking process to make sure they are cooked through. Microwave’s settings will vary, the important thing is to ensure the berries reach boiling.
  • Wash your hands before eating and preparing food.

The products under recall were identified through the course of New Zealand Food Safety’s ongoing investigation, Mr Arbuckle says.

“We know the virus in New Zealand is a genetic match to a virus which caused illness in Sweden in 2020 and 2021. That illness had a possible link to frozen berries from Serbia.”

“The recalled products contain berries from Serbia and were reported as eaten by most of the people who have become sick.

“We were able to identify the recalled products by matching the onset of the illness with the food history reported by the cases,” he said.

It is possible that another potential source may be identified, or no definitive confirmed source is found at all, said Mr Arbuckle.

“Tracing the illness back to specific products in the case of frozen berries from imported sources is widely accepted to be a very challenging process.”

“The 12 cases report eating a range of berries. In addition, Hepatitis A has a long incubation period – up to 50 days between consumption of the product and symptoms appearing.

“Testing of product conducted by Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) to date has not identified any Hepatitis A virus to date. This is to be expected because of the volume of berries in play.

“Given these complexities, we are working through the issue carefully. As part of this we’ve had our approach peer reviewed by an international expert and consistently sought advice from other international food safety agencies and will continue to do so,” he said.

In the meantime, as an additional precaution, other frozen berry importers have decided to place on hold other berries which can be traced back to Serbia while the investigation continues.

“These products have a weaker link to the cases and contain fewer berries from Serbia. We support the importers’ voluntary decision to place them on hold from sale while our work to identify the source of infection continues. It is an imposition for them, but like us, they have prioritised the safety of consumers.”

“Any further actions will be driven by the evidence in support of food safety,” said Mr Arbuckle.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A:

If you’ve caught Hepatitis A, it will take 15–50 days for the symptoms to develop.

Early symptoms of Hepatitis A infection can be mistaken for the flu. The usual symptoms are nausea and stomach pain, with jaundice (yellow skin) appearing in a few days. Some people, especially children, may have no symptoms at all.

As the illness develops, the symptoms are: 

  • Fever.
  • Jaundice (yellow discolouration of the eyes and/or skin).
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite).
  • Nausea.
  • Abdominal discomfort.
  • Malaise (fatigue, feeling tired).
  • Dark urine.

More information on Hepatitis A is available on the Ministry of Health’s website 

If you have concerns for your health, consult your medical professional or phone Healthline 0800 61 11 16.

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