Two brands of frozen berries have been recalled nationwide from supermarket shelves for potential hepatitis A contamination.
Unfortunately, nine cases of the illness have been confirmed in New South Wales and Victoria so far as a result of the contaminated fruit.
The first recall was made on Saturday of one-kilogram bags of Nanna’s Frozen Mixed Berry just hours after the Victorian health department urged consumers to immediately throw away the product.
A subsequent withdrawal of Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries in 300g and 500g packets was made on Sunday as a result of the health scare. Now, Nanna's Raspberries one-kilogram packets are being recalled as a precautinary measure, too.
The products, all distributed by Patties Foods, are available across the country in the major supermarket chains, Coles, Woolworths and IGA, as well as independent stores, which have been encouraged to remove the products from their shelves.
While Patties is based in Victoria, the fruit comes from China and Chile, and the product was packed in China, where the contamination is believed to have taken place.
Hepatitis A is spread when traces of faecal matter containing the virus come in contact with hands, water or food and then enter a person's mouth.
The product recall will help alleviate the spread of the illness, however there are ongoing concerns as hepatitis A is considered contagious. There is also a considerable incubation period.
According to Dr Vicky Sheppeard from NSW Health's Communicable Diseases Branch, they are expecting more cases to arise.
"So far we've had two people that have confirmed hepatitis A, that in the weeks to months before they developed hepatitis A had consumed these berries and they're coming from different parts of the state, so we're concerned this might be a more widespread problem," said Dr Sheppeard.
She advised that the incubation period of hepatitis A is between two to seven weeks, and that early diagnosis of symptoms will help prevent the spread of the disease.
Early symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, loss of appetite and nausea, which develop over several days to a week before more advanced signs start to emerge, including jaundice (yellow skin and eye balls), dark urine and pale stool. Anyone experiencing these symptoms is urged to see a doctor.
According to Patties Foods CEO Steven Chaur, the full national recall was a precautionary measure.
"We have decided that all our frozen Mixed Berries should be recalled until such time as we receive the results of further laboratory tests," Mr Chaur said. "The recall is an important step to ensure public safety and confidence."
Finn Romanes of Victoria’s health department said frozen berries have been linked to Hepatitis A in the past. He also warned that contaminated product could be sitting in consumers freezers currently.
Leading horticultural body, AUSVEG, spoke out over the incident, saying it highlights ongoing concern over the inadequate level of testing imported fruit, vegetables and other fresh produce are subjected to.
Said AUSVEG Deputy CEO Andrew White: “Given that Australian producers are required to comply with some of the world’s strictest quality assurance standards before their products are made available for public consumption, it is high time the same level of scrutiny is applied to imported produce to ensure public safety.”
While many consumers opt to buy local for peace of mind, he said ongoing confusion surrounding Country of Origin Labelling laws meant it was still often difficult for consumers to determine precisely where the products they were purchasing came from.”
Concerned consumers can call the company on 1800 650 069.