I'm hearing a lot of panic and miss-information around the frozen berries/Hep A drama, so I thought I'd take a moment to clarify a few issues to help you feel better.
By now most people are aware of the Hepatitis A cases being linked to frozen mixed berries. Patties have recalled the suspect product-Nanna’s 1kg frozen Mixed Berries, and just in case, have also recalled Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries 300g and 500g, and Nanna's 1kg frozen Raspberries- as the raspberries in all of these products were picked and packed from the same two factories in China’s Shandong province.
This Hepatitis A outbreak reflects similar outbreaks in Italy, Ireland, France and Norway last year, but apparently those berries were grown in Europe. Now it’s in Australia and everyone is freaking out- despite Patties Foods repeatedly stating that there is no confirmed evidence linking the Hep A outbreaks to the berries.
How did this happen?
Hep A is transferred through the faecal-oral route. Yep, so that means to catch it, you have to get a virus from someone’s poo in your actual mouth.
Hep A has a rather long incubation period- from 15- 50 days, so it can be hard to map where it came from. At the moment, the suspected links in the frozen berry case, are from either an ill factory or farm worker handling the fruit without washing their hands, or that a water supply contaminated with sewerage was involved in the processing. Many viruses, including Hep A, are not killed by being frozen, rather they become inert and when thawed, the somnolent viruses become active again.
Kill it with fire!
Cooking can kill the Hep A virus, as long as the virus reaches temperatures of at least 85°C. Yes, that means you’re more at risk of infection if you’ve been tossing frozen berries in your healthy green smoothie, than if you’ve been baking them in muffins- where’s the justice in that?
Are we all going to die now?
Nope. Hep A is a communicable virus that affects the liver- it’s quite contagious, but it’s generally pretty benign. Anyone who was around before the sewage changed over in the ‘50s will have already had it, and will now be immune.
Some, particulalry children- and especially those under 5, may have no symptoms at all. Generally a Hep A infection will be a short, unremarkable flu-like illness- symptoms like malaise (feeling tired), muscle soreness, upset stomach or fever. There may be more “liverish” signs such as right upper quadrant abdominal pain, pale stools or vomiting after fats or alcohol. Toward the end of the illness you may experience dark-coloured urine, itchy skin or jaundice.
The virus can shed from the incubation period to about a week after the jaundiced stage. So you’re contagious from before you know you have it until after you feel better, yet despite this, Australian outbreaks are relatively low- we have fewer than 200 cases reported each year. There are likely more cases in which the symptoms are mild enough not to warrant assessment and treatment.
The infection usually clears within two months, but can take longer in some people. Hep A causes much less damage to the liver than Hepatitis B & C, and most of the time there is complete resolution of symptoms. In rare cases, Hep A can lead to permanent liver damage and fatalities are extremely rare- approximately 0.2% of known cases. Adverse risks are more likely if you are 75 years or older- but remember that those who were around pre-1950s are likely to have immunity anyway.
There is no specific medical treatment for Hep A. It is generally recommended that patients get plenty of rest, eat a nutritious diet and avoid both alcohol and fatty foods.
How can you decrease your chances of getting Hep A?
In Australia, your risks are very low. Obviously return the recalled products but if you have other brands of frozen berries lurking in the back of the freezer that you’re unsure of, use them for cooking- making sure the food reaches boiling point.
This is a great time to source locally grown foods. Issues of food miles and supporting local farmers aside, Australia has tightly regulated food safety rules so contamination problems of this nature are much less likely to occur. Get beautiful fresh berries from the market or the berry farm and freeze them yourself. They’ll be far more delicious and every time you eat them you’ll remember the summer- so you’ll feel more connected to your food.
Support the immune system by eating lots of brightly coloured vegies and good quality protein. Minimise sugar, it irritates the immune system and makes viral symptoms worse. Including bitter foods in you diet will help support the liver. Drink lemon juice in water on rising and consider starting meals with a small salad of sharp-tasting lettuces. Drink chamomile or chicory and dandelion tea. Minimise alcohol and takeaway foods.
Whatever you do, don’t stop eating berries! Berries have unique healing qualities, are wonderfully high in nutrients and low in sugars. They are certainly something that shouldn’t be avoided!
Liver lovin’ juice
This is a great morning juice. It will help stimulate your appetite, support the function of your liver and improve digestion
1 Beetroot, including greens
2 sticks of Celery
Small bunch Endive (if no beet greens)
handful of fresh Parsley
1 knob of Ginger
Put all ingredients through a juicer, blend and enjoy