Who knew Frozen Berries and Hepatitis A co-existed? Not once did I ever suspect that a morning smoothie could ever be linked to acute-liver failure however, this isn’t the first case of it’s kind. What I took away from this case is shared below.
In case you haven’t heard, Patties have recalled both Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet frozen berry varieties. Why? A particular batch of frozen berries sold by this company has been ALLEGEDLY linked to 9 cases of Hepatitis A here in Australia. Now whilst some of us are shocked and from what I can tell, a little disgusted, many of you have been asking me for more information regarding this chain of events. Because I don’t have the facts regarding the in’s and out’s of this particular case, I can only re-iterate what’s already out there however, I’ve collated and summarised this information (which has all been referenced) in a bid to hopefully help some of you to join the dots… so here goes…
Most (If Not All) Frozen Berries are Imported…
First things first, you need to know that most varieties of frozen berries sold here in Australia are grown in China (and Chile, sometimes Poland and anywhere in between. Please refer to your product packaging for more information). Why? There are a number of reasons, low cost is a big factor (especially when Australian farmer’s have said they can no longer compete with cheap imports). Couple that with the fact that these frozen berries are available year round (seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables are out the window, but that’s another article… ). To sum it up, these berries aren’t Australian.
Secondly, according to a report by the ABC, prior to December of 2014, Patties were re-packaging all imported berries here in Australia. Since that date, Patties had started to receive frozen berries that had already been washed and packaged in the supplier’s factory located in the province of Shendong, China.
But how does Hep A get in your frozen berries?
According to the World Health Organisation, Hepatitis A is primarily spread when an uninfected or unvaccinated person ingests food or water contaminated with the faeces of an infected person (yes, you did read that correctly, faeces).
According to the ABC, the poor hygiene standards in China, as well as potentially contaminated water supplies are thought to be the cause of the problem.
Hmmm… is it possible that the berries were washed with water contaminated by the faeces of an infected person? Do you wash your frozen berries before you consume them? Is washing them before use even enough? I look forward to the results of the enquiry.
Back in 2013, some of you might remember that I wrote a small piece on Facebook discussing the findings of a frozen berry investigation that was aired on Today Tonight. What they found raised a few alarm bells for me personally.
The following brands were found to contain traces of a number of fungicides and pesticides:
- Select Mixed berries were found to contain the chemical Pyraclostrobin. According to research Pyraclostrobin “may be fatal if swallowed, causes substantial but temporary eye injury, causes skin irritation and is considered harmful if absorbed through skin”.
FYI: Woolworths withdrew the berries in question from sale and have since established a new source.
- Creative Gourmet frozen berries were also found to contain traces of a fungicide however, Patties did state the following in an email sent directly to my inbox back in 2013: “The chemical residue reported was below the level considered harmful, and the chemical itself is approved as a pesticide for a wide range of fruits and vegetables in Australia. Nevertheless, Creative Gourmet recognises this represented a failure of our suppliers to meet our very strict standards”.
Is it possible that Today Tonight were on to something all those years ago?
I could go on and on (yes, I’ve done a lot of reading on this subject), but I think it’s important to share the information I took away from this situation:
- Most frozen berries are imported from countries like China and Chile, where strict chemical regulations and education like the one’s enforced here in Australia, simply don’t exist. For me personally, this is an issue, especially because only 5% of products are tested when they are brought into the country.
- If we attempt to buy frozen berries produced in NZ, we really don’t know where they are coming from either. According to Jennifer Dowell from the National Secretary of the Food and Confectionary Division of the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union (AMWU):“The way the import laws work in New Zealand means that they can import a product from China, put it in a bag in New Zealand and ship it to Australia as a ‘product of New Zealand”. In the same interview recorded on foodmag.com.au, Jennifer suggests that this ‘loophole’ can enable some companies to avoid Australian food testing requirements.
- Whilst the Provence of Shandong deals with poor sanitation and contaminated water (which according to ABC is where these berries were washed and packaged), I am also concerned by the quality of the soil and agricultural conditions of the area. Whilst Nanna’s berries (or any other berries sold in Australia, to the best of my knowledge) have NOT been found to contain DDT, DDT has been identified in a number of instances (especially when it comes to agricultural soils) across China.
- An article published by Harvard (2010) stated that the “… Shandong province was (once) the largest consumer of DDT, whose usage added up to 2,094 tonnes…”.
- In a separate study, soil found in the Shandong province and surrounds has been found to contain traces of this chemical.
- In 2006 a separate study concluded that the total organochlorine pesticide residues (DDD, DDE and DDT) were higher in agricultural soils than in uncultivated soils across China. (Journal of Environmental Sciences 19(2007) 584–590)
- DDT is one of the most dangerous pesticides that has ever been used on our food supply and as a result, has been banned in Australia for many years. DDT has been linked to cancer, reproductive challenges and birth defects.
- Although DDT has now been banned in China, this chemical can last in the soil for a very long time, potentially for hundreds of years.
- Australia isn’t the first country to suffer this kind of problem with imported frozen food:
- An outbreak of Hepatitis A in Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) in 2013 was linked to frozen berries, particularly frozen strawberries, however, they could not exclude other frozen berries
- The European Food Authority (EFSA) has also linked imported frozen raspberries to outbreaks of the Norovirus.
- Strawberries imported from Poland in 2005 were also found to be carrying the Norovirus.
- Frozen strawberries imported from Mexico were linked to a widespread outbreak of hepatitis A in the United States in 1997.
- An outbreak of hepatitis A in Scotland was linked to the consumption of mousse prepared from frozen raspberries. So how come this keeps happening? They can’t really pinpoint one particular reason however, aside from the common theme of poor sanitation, according to an article published by the Euro Surveillance Organisation, freezing allows viruses to survive in berries for a long time. To combat the problem, countries of the EU now recommend people wash and boil their frozen berries before they eat them… nice, berry mush anyone? As they say, fresh is always best!
To sum it all up, what I have taken away from the situation is quite simple. Tampering with mother nature, the seasons or the environment isn’t worth it. Berries, like any other fruit or vegetable are seasonal (for reasons we probably can’t even begin to understand) and they should remain that way. Now, more than ever, I am forever committed to eating only fresh (and organic where possible) produce grown right here in Australia. If I feel like frozen berries, I’ll freeze my own Australian berries when they are seasonally available. What if I can’t afford them? Oh well, I’ll have to substitute with some other fresh fruit. For all those concerned, there are plenty of other ways to make a delicious smoothie, you just have to get creative.
The information on this post represents my own views, shaped by my own research. It should not be construed as professional advice and is not intended to replace consultation with an appropriately qualified professional. I hope this website inspires you to do your own research and always ask questions.