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Frozen Blueberry Warning

Director General Of Health Privileged Statement Under Section 37 Of The Food Act 1981

12 April 2002

Director General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi today advised people who froze blueberries bought fresh in punnets between December 23 and the end of January that were sourced from a Waikato farm to discard them or thoroughly cook them before eating them.

These blueberries were widely distributed, possibly nationally, under the "Waikato Blueberries" brand.

Auckland District Health Board Public Health Protection Service has been investigating an increased number of hepatitis A cases over the past few weeks. Seventeen of the 29 cases of hepatitis A in Auckland from January until now have been linked with eating blueberries.

It is known that a person with a confirmed case of hepatitis A was at Marshmeadows Farm Limited during some of the harvesting period. Some of the blueberries linked with the Auckland cases were from this farm.

Dr Poutasi said this warning to consumers was issued tonight because there was a potential risk to people from eating affected blueberries they bought fresh in punnets from 23 December and the end of January and then froze.

"The Ministry is working with the blueberry industry to try and be more specific about what product is affected, how products from the farm can be identified and where they were sold."

Unfortunately, it may prove difficult for consumers to identify what farm their blueberries are from.

"Although the fresh blueberry season is over, people may still have frozen blueberries in their freezers. If these were brought fresh in punnets between December 23 and the end of January they need to ensure these are either discarded or thoroughly cooked to destroy the hepatitis A virus."

For thorough cooking, frozen blueberries should be defrosted first to make sure the temperature inside the blueberry reaches at least 85 degrees centigrade for 90 seconds during cooking. Boiling them is recommended.

The hepatitis A virus is not destroyed by freezing.

Its symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, nausea or abdominal discomfort with jaundice. People who are concerned they may have eaten affected blueberries and are experiencing symptoms should seek medical advice.

They should also be very careful with their personal hygiene as the disease is spread from person to person by the faecal-oral route. After using the toilet, people should carefully wash their hands with soap for at least ten seconds and thoroughly dry them.

signed by:

Dr Karen O Poutasi,

Director-General of Health


BACKGROUND

Hepatitis A is the most common type of hepatitis. Hepatitis A is transmitted from person to person through the faecal-oral route.

The incubation period is usually between 28 and 30 days.

People are most infectious one to two weeks before and the first few days after the onset of jaundice.

There is no treatment once the disease has been caught but an immune globulin injection can prevent the progression of the disease.

The hepatitis A vaccine is advised for overseas travellers particularly to areas where food handling is suspect.


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