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Food Safety Focus (106th Issue, May 2015) – Food Incident Highlight

Hepatitis A and Berry Products

In mid-March, there were words circulating among the public that a local case of hepatitis A infection was suspected to be associated with the consumption of tainted blueberries. The speculation came after an outbreak of hepatitis A in Australia that has been linked to a brand of frozen mixed berries processed in Mainland China. Investigations by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) found that the affected product was not imported into Hong Kong and was not available in the local market.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission and food safety regulatory authorities across the world have adopted the view that routine testing for viruses in food is of limited use. To address public concern over the safety of berry products, as an exceptional measure, the CFS has collected frozen berries from the local market for testing of genetic materials of hepatitis A virus (HAV) and all results are negative. Berries, which are usually eaten raw, may pose a risk of hepatitis A infection if they are contaminated. In general, members of the public are advised to wash fruits with potable water before consumption. However, it is worth noting that HAV on fruits cannot be completely eliminated by washing, control of HAV in fresh produce should focus on prevention of contamination.