AN outbreak of potentially deadly Hepatitis A has been linked to eating imported frozen berries.
Fruit smoothies and ready-to-eat dishes in the catering sector commonly use frozen berries including blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said it was investigating a food-poisoning outbreak and all indications were pointing towards frozen imported berries as the source.
In Ireland, 10 people have become ill with Hepatitis A and half of these cases have been linked to the consumption of imported frozen berries.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre and other health bodies are working with the FSAI to identify the source.
However, this has been hampered by the lengthy incubation period of the disease as it takes a month from exposure for symptoms to emerge, making it difficult to pinpoint the cause precisely.
FSAI chief executive, Professor Alan Reilly, said there was no evidence that fresh Irish berries or fresh imported berries were affected.
"The source of this outbreak is not known yet, but all indications are pointing towards imported frozen berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackberries and strawberries," he said.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver which can have mild to severe symptoms and occasionally fatal consequences in vulnerable patients – but there have been no deaths from this outbreak, the FSAI said.
Elderly people are more likely to be worse hit than children and the symptoms – which can last from one week to several months – include fever, nausea, fatigue and abdominal pain followed by the onset of jaundice.
The FSAI urged consumers and food businesses to boil imported frozen berries for at least one minute before eating, to destroy the virus.
There have been no withdrawals of any products from sale as a result of the outbreak, because it has proved impossible so far to identify a specific brand or batch carrying the virus.
The lengthy incubation period – varying from 15 to 50 days but averaging 28 days – hampers these efforts because it is more difficult for people to recall exactly what they ate that long ago.
The investigation is ongoing and is focused on tracking foods eaten by those infected.
Consumers can obtain further information from the FSAI at www.fsai.ie or on 1890 336677.