New country of origin food labelling may wait until 2017

Consumers may have to wait until 2017 for new country of origin food labelling regulations to be fully implemented, even though the Government earlier said it wanted them this year.

According to the ABC, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said talks are already taking place. However, it will take time to make any changes.

"Those meetings will go through to around about July, August," Joyce said.

"And then we will hopefully have it back in Cabinet around about August.

"Then we'll have an implementation period which will go over about 12 months, so it'll be starting next year."

As ABC Rural reports, one meeting between government and industry recently took place in the NSW town of Albury.

One attendee, Jodie Goldsworthy from Beechworth Honey told the ABC she was hopeful about the possibility of change but was disappointed that it “seems like the proposed changes are all about adding percentages for imported versus percentages for Australian”.

The labels will show the amount of locally made content in products, including diagrams to help consumers. However they won’t let consumers know where non-Australian content comes from. There will be just an ‘overseas’ designation, not designations for each overseas country.

Goldsworthy pointed out that food grown in New Zealand adheres to the same safety standards as Australian grown food, but food grown in China meets different standards.

The move for new country of origin food labelling gained momentum after five cases of hepatitis A in New South Wales and Victoria were linked to two Patties frozen berry brands.

The berries were grown in China and it is thought that poor hygiene amongst Chinese workers as well as potentially contaminated water supplies were to blame for the hepatitis A.

Image: 9news.com.au

“Strong evidence” frozen berries caused outbreak: Dept of Health

The Department of Health said there is “very strong evidence” linking Nanna’s recalled berries with an increased risk of developing Hep A.

Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash, said rigorous scientific analysis of information from interviews with affected people, comparisons with people who were not ill, as well as tracing the source of berries eaten by affected people, had been extensive.

“There is very strong evidence that consumption of Nanna's 1kg fresh frozen mixed berries led to an increased risk of developing Hepatitis A infection in this outbreak,” Senator Nash said.

“Cases with an identical genetic strain of Hepatitis A virus occurred across Australia reporting the common consumption of that product.

“Although testing of food is an unreliable way to detect Hepatitis A virus, as Patties Foods Limited have noted, the Victorian state Health Department testing of the product in question has now confirmed evidence of Hepatitis A virus at trace levels from a sealed packet of the product.

“Hepatitis A virus was also detected in an open packet of Nanna's 1kg fresh frozen mixed berries from a case.”

On Wednesday (15 April), Patties Foods issued a release announcing they had completed its microbiological and viral testing and found no Hepatitis A or E.coli on recalled products.

Patties will reintroduce Nanna’s and the Creative Gourmet brand berries back to the marketplace under a ‘positive release’ protocol. This means every batch will be tested in Australia for Hepatitis A and E.coli, and will only be released to market when negative test results are provided.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce said “the berries used to generate new product will be sourced from new farms and factories and subject to stricter microbiological testing than ever before.

“This testing includes microbiological testing for Hepatitis A virus, E.coli and coliforms.

“Patties berry products from the Chinese factories and farms associated with the recall are all still being held at the border, in line with directions given to Patties by the Department of Agriculture. The media statement made by Patties does not change the status of these consignments.

“Patties Foods has worked closely with my department throughout this food safety incident to help identify and hold berry product that potentially poses a risk to human health.

“All imported product that was linked to the outbreak of Hepatitis A in Australia was recalled by Patties and will never be put back onto the market.” 

Minister Joyce said new import requirements for frozen berries were underway.

​“More broadly, my department is working with Food Standards Australia New Zealand to ensure that the import requirements for all frozen berries, from all sources, comply with the stringent food safety requirements set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code,” Minister Joyce said.

“I expect that we will be in a position to announce these new requirements in the coming weeks.”

 

Patties finds no link between Hep A outbreak and Nanna’s berries

Patties Foods has completed its microbiological and viral testing and found no Hepatitis A or E.coli on recalled products.

The testing follows the recent Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) outbreak which has been linked to Nanna’s Mixed Berries 1kg but results of these tests on samples of recalled and non-recalled Nanna’s Mixed Berries 1kg have come up negative. No detection of HAV or E.coli was found in any sample.

To date, the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) has advised that 31 HAV cases have been linked epidemiologically to Nanna’s Mixed Berries. At a meeting held yesterday between Patties Foods and DHHS, DHHS advised that as a result of the number of new cases reducing and the completion of the 50 day HAV incubation period, the risk of further cases is low.

Patties Foods MD & CEO, Steven Chaur, said the company is working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Farming & Food (DAFF), DHHS and its suppliers globally on now concluding the investigation.

The company has recently recommenced supply of all its non-recalled Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet berries varieties, other than Mixed Berries, back onto the Australian supermarket shelves under a ‘positive release’ regime for every batch, only after local external laboratory tests for both E.coli and HAV confirm the product is negative to these markers.

“Extensive microbiological and viral testing conducted by Patties Foods shows no evidence of systemic failure of Patties Foods’ quality assurance programs.

“Our microbiological and viral testing does not confirm any link between Nanna’s Mixed Berries and HAV. However, we are guided by the epidemiology provided by the DHHS and accordingly have taken proactive and collaborative measures to ensure public safety. If our Nanna’s product was the source, the lack of laboratory findings from the testing conducted by Patties Foods for the presence of E.coli, Coliforms or HAV indicates there has been no systemic failure. Regardless, Patties Foods has significantly increased protection measures to ensure that any risk is further minimised in future.

“Since the potential link between our products and HAV was first notified, we have recalled all potential source product, ceased importing from possible sources of the potential contamination, and increased our testing regime to 100 percent of all containers of our imported frozen berries from all countries, not just China.

“As well, we have introduced tighter sensitivity tests of E.coli from <3cfu/g to now a maximum limit of 1cfu/g on ALL fruit batches. This level of E.coli testing is the most sensitive possible. No detection of E.coli has been found in any sample. E.coli is a marker for poor hygiene, faecal matter and potentially HAV, and is readily identifiable in laboratory testing.

“Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet brand berries are amongst the most rigorously microbiologically tested berries now sold in the market.

“Patties Foods has also re-tested as a precautionary measure all batches of frozen berries not subject to the recall in our Australian warehouses. This includes berries and fruits from Chile, Vietnam and Peru. No evidence of HAV or E.coli has been detected in any batch,” Chaur said.

“Patties Foods has now adopted a ‘positive release’ protocol on all its frozen berry products, which means every batch will be tested in Australia for HAV and E.coli, and are only released to market when negative test results are provided. All Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet berries now being released to supermarkets have passed this test with nil detection.”

Patties Foods has since the recall ceased all supply of its Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries to the Australian market taking into account DHHS's epidemiological results until further notice while it evaluates new sources of global supply.

“The health and safety of consumers is our primary concern and we want to give consumers full confidence that when they buy a packet of our product, they can enjoy a quality product, produced to Australian Food Safety Standards. Consumers have told us they want the Nanna’s range back on shelves, and we will keep working hard to ensure consumers can enjoy and trust our products,” Chaur said.

Patties Foods sent approximately 360 packs of frozen berries for HAV testing at laboratories in Europe, North America and Australia. This testing took longer than initially anticipated because of the significant logistics program required to maintain the integrity of a large number of frozen product samples in transport to the leading accredited laboratories around the world. No HAV or E.coli was detected in any of the packets of various batch codes.

DHHS tested two opened sample packs recovered from consumers who had contracted HAV:

  • For one of these samples, HAV was not detected.
  • One sample from the opened pack tested positive for HAV, however DHHS noted that as this sample was from an opened packet it may have been open to contamination.

DHHS also tested eight random sample packs purchased from supermarkets including in Victoria:

  • For seven of these samples, HAV was not detected
  • One sample detected a trace amount of HAV:

    • SARDI reported that a trace amount of HAV was detected in one of the duplicate neat sample RNA’s. It added however that quantification at such low levels was not precise.
    • Microbiological testing of this sample returned negative results for Coliform and E.coli.
    • DHHS noted that the detection of HAV, under the testing protocol, only demonstrated the virus was or is present. It did not allow for a determination of whether the virus is viable (i.e. whether the virus is alive and will cause infection).

"Frozen berries are a very popular product in Australia, with over 24 million packs sold in supermarkets each year. Consumer demand for frozen berries has grown at over 40 percent a year over recent years,” Chaur said.

“The overwhelming majority of frozen berries consumed in Australia are imported, and Patties Foods is one of about 30 companies which import frozen berries. Patties Foods is the only frozen berry importer which has achieved Food Import Certification Agreement (FICA) compliance from the DAFF for frozen berry and fruit imports. This compliance operates to much higher standards than regular importers, and it documents and regularly audits Patties Foods for Australian food safety compliance.

“Patties Foods is keen to engage with local berry growers in Australia on the development of a locally sourced berry range. This will require investment in specialised freezing technology and development of commercial crop volumes required to meet consumer frozen berry demand. It could take some time to develop the infrastructure and crops, given long seasonal lead times. In the meantime, the company will continue to source berries from China, Chile and other global regions where producers specialise in frozen berry production.

“This category is one of the fastest growing in supermarkets at around +40 percent per annum due to the popularity of smoothies. Frozen berries have grown so strongly because of convenience, year round availability and price. Frozen berries sell for about $10 per kilo versus $35-45 per kilo for fresh, so fresh berries are still a very expensive proposition short term for consumers. Until local producers can meet volume, technology and cost requirements, consumer demand in supermarkets is likely to continue to be met through global sourcing, with rigorous safety testing standards and consistent labelling requirements. Patties Foods wants to be an active participant in further developing the local industry.

“Now the testing has been completed with no systemic quality failure, the company is working with its major supermarket partners to actively re-engage consumer confidence in the frozen berry category,” Chaur said.

The Federal Health Department stated on 25 March, “The risk of contracting hepatitis A from eating frozen berries is estimated to be very low noting there have been only 28 cases to date despite berries being a commonly consumed food”.

The Federal Health Department advised on 10 April that there were a total of 79 cases of Hepatitis A in Australia this year, 14 fewer than at the same time last year.

 

Manufacturing error sees David Jones chocolate eggs recalled

David Jones has recalled its Hotel Chocolat milk-free
chocolate eggs, because there is a chance they may contain milk.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the 400 gram eggs from
Hotel Chocolat had the “potential presence” of milk, the NSW Food Authority
said.

The eggs are sold in the ACT, NSW, Queensland, Victoria
and WA.

“The product is advertised as ‘milk free’ but may
contain traces of milk as it was manufactured in a factory that uses dairy in
other products,” advises the NSW Food Authority.

Consumers can return the eggs and get a full refund.

Image: https://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au

Target Easter chocolate products recalled

Six of Target Australia’s Easter chocolate products have been recalled due to the potential presence of undeclared allergens.

The products which are being recalled are:

  • Target Milk Chocolate Bunny 900g, 500g, 200g, 100g
  • Target Dark Chocolate Bunny 100g
  • Target White Chocolate Bunny 500g, 100g
  • Target Milk Chocolate Duck 250g
  • Klett Easter Cone Mixed Bag of Chocolates 400g
  • Klett Milk Chocolate Sitting Bunny 150g

The recall is due to the potential presence of undeclared tree nuts and peanuts.

The label states ‘may contain shell fruit’ instead of ‘tree nuts and peanuts’.

Target said any consumers who have a tree nut or peanut allergy or intolerance may have a reaction if these products are consumed and customers who have a tree nut or peanut allergy or intolerance should not consume these products and should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

 

Kraft recalls mac and cheese in the US

Kraft Foods Group is voluntarily recalling approximately 242,000 cases of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner as some boxes may contain small pieces of metal.

The recalled product is limited to the 7.25-oz. size of the Original flavour of boxed dinner with the "Best When Used By" dates of September 18, 2015 through October 11, 2015, with the code "C2" directly below the date on each individual box.  The "C2" refers to a specific production line on which the affected product was made.

Some of these products have also been packed in multi-pack units that have a range of different code dates and manufacturing codes on the external packaging (box or shrink-wrap), depending on the package configuration (see table below).

Recalled product was shipped to customers in the U.S, Puerto Rico and some Caribbean and South American countries – but not to Canada.

The affected dates of this product were sold in only these four configurations:

  • 7.25 oz. box, Original flavour
  • 3-pack box of those 7.25 oz. boxes, Original flavour
  • 4-pack  shrink-wrap of those 7.25 oz. boxes, Original flavour
  • 5-pack shrink-wrap of those 7.25 oz. boxes, Original flavour

No other sizes, varieties or pasta shapes and no other packaging configurations are included in this recall.  And no products with manufacturing codes other than "C2" below the code date on the individual box are included in this recall.

Kraft has received eight consumer contacts about this product from the impacted line within this range of code dates and no injuries have been reported.

Consumers who purchased this product should not eat it.  They should return it to the store where purchased for an exchange or full refund.  Consumers also can contact Kraft Foods Consumer Relations (1-800-816-9432) between 9 am and 6 pm (Eastern) for a full refund.

 

Cases of Hepatitis A lower than last year

Australia has had less cases of Hepatitis A this year, compared with this time last year, despite the outbreak linked with the imported frozen berries.

There have now been 65 cases of hepatitis A in Australia this year. This time last year there were 81 cases.

As at 11:00 on 17 Mar 15, according to the Department of Health there were 27 cases of Hepatitis A linked to frozen berries: 12 in QLD, eight in NSW, three in Vic, two in WA, one in ACT and one in SA.

All 27 cases have reported eating Nanna’s frozen mixed berries during their period of acquisition (15-50 days prior to the onset of symptoms). No other common exposure has been determined and this strong epidemiological association is further strengthened by genotyping.

The risk of contracting hepatitis A from eating frozen berries is estimated to be very low noting there have been only 27 cases to date despite berries being a commonly consumed food.

Four products have been recalled, but only the Nanna's Mixed Berries product has been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak. The other products have been recalled as a precaution.

The product is packed in China, containing raspberries, strawberries and blackberries grown there, and blueberries. The blueberries in the product were initially thought to have come from Chile, however, the Department of Health is now advised by the company that they were sourced from Canada.

Recalled products:

  • Nanna's Mixed Berries 1kg pack, with a best before date up to and including 22/11/16.
  • Nanna's Raspberries 1kg pack, with a best before date up to and including 15/09/16.
  • Creative Gourmet's Mixed Berries 300g pack, with a best before date up to and including 10/12/17.
  • Creative Gourmet's Mixed Berries 500g pack, with a best before date up to and including 06/10/17.

The recall has prompted calls for tougher country of origin labelling rules and for an independent review of Australia’s imported food safety regime.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called upon Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to prepare a submission for cabinet on country of origin labelling by the end of March.

100 percent screening also now applies to frozen berries from factories in China linked to the Australian Hepatitis A incident.

 

Dirty eggs recalled due to potential salmonella contamination

RL Adams Pty Ltd has recalled Darling Downs Fresh Eggs and Mountain Range Eggs from independent supermarkets, fruit and vegetable stores & butcher shops and some cafes in QLD, NSW and NT due to dirty eggs, with potential for microbial contamination.

The recall concerns Darling Downs Fresh Eggs (300g, 350g, 500g, 600g, 700g, 1500g) and Mountain Range Eggs (350g, 500g, 600g and 700g) with Best Before dates between March 26 2015 and April 22 2015.

The eggs are individually stamped with a Julian date of 036 up to and including 063. Eggs with Julian date prior to and after 036 and 063 are not impacted by this voluntary recall and withdrawal.

Darling Downs Fresh Eggs said the recall is due to a potential production issue and “it is possible that dirty eggs may have been packed into some of these [recalled] cartons and we are implementing a voluntary recall of these eggs.”

Following the recall, the egg industry has said it is supporting Queensland and South Australian health authorities in their investigations into recent reports of foodborne illnesses.

Australia Egg Corporation Managing Director James Kellaway says that the egg industry is well regulated with respect to public safety and maintains a high standard of food safety compared to other countries.

"However, like all perishable foods, eggs need to be handled carefully," Kellaway said.

"Australia has some of the safest eggs in the world. This is the result of high quality standards applied across industry combined with a system of food safety regulation that is on par with the world’s best," he said.

"AECL has also launched a national Salmonella Initiative with a dedicated member of staff working to inform people across the supply chain about how to reduce the risk of salmonella for consumers. Through the Salmonella Initiative, AECL has been collaborating with relevant through-chain stakeholders Australia-wide (producers, retailers, health departments, regulators, food service operators, chefs) to identify appropriate controls measures at various stages through chain," he said.

"The ultimate output of the Salmonella Initiative will be a through-chain risk assessment that includes research-based knowledge to be used as the basis for management of each risk which will also identify knowledge gaps that can be filled through the AECL R&D program."

All Australian egg producers are required to comply with the Food Standards Code as regulated by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), which requires all eggs to be stamped with an identifying mark to enable traceability and prohibits the sale of cracked and dirty eggs.

The egg industry also has a voluntary quality assurance scheme called EggCorp Assured and food safety is a central component of the scheme.

Any consumers with any recalled product is advised to return it to the place of purchase and ask for the stock to be replaced.

 

Concern over screening of canned tuna linked to food poisoning

Five percent of shipments of the imported canned tuna at the centre of a Sydney food poisoning scare were being checked at the border.

While officials usually test 100 percent of consignments of high-risk products (including tuna), the rate of checks on John Bull tuna had been reduced to the minimum level because of the good compliance history of its manufacturer, Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Seven customers of Sydney's Soul Origin cafe last month reportedly became ill with symptoms of scombroid poisoning after consuming salad containing the tuna, which is canned in Thailand.

The 5 per cent inspection rate for the tuna is the same level of surveillance that was being applied to the supposedly low-risk frozen berries from China which were linked to more than 20 cases of hepatitis A last month.

A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce confirmed the rate of inspections for high-risk food could be reduced to 5 per cent once the manufacturer established a good history of compliance. The spokesman said the inspection rates were set in legislation, and were increased to 100 per cent following any failed tests.

Greens agriculture spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said it was a "massive concern" that 95 per cent of consignments of a high-risk product had been entering the country unchecked.

"This imported product has slipped through the cracks and severely impacted the health of Australians because the manufacturer had good compliance for an extended period of time," Siewert said.

 

Tuna product recalled following food poisoning scare

A tinned tuna product linked to four cases of food poisoning has been removed from the market, according to the NSW Food Authority.

Earlier this week, four people reported symptoms of scombroid, or histamine poisoning soon after consuming a takeaway tuna salad from Soul Origin, a cafe located at Town Hall station in Sydney’s CBD. Symptoms include skin rashes, dizziness, tingling in the mouth and nausea.

As part of its investigation, the NSW Food Authority obtained samples of the tuna product, imported from Thailand, for testing. The product, John Bull Tuna Chunky Style in Sunflower Oil, 425g (best before 11.2017, batch code: FTM40280D) is not generally available to the public, and is mostly used by catering companies.

Histamine fish poisoning usually occurs when naturally occurring bacteria in certain species of fish produce an enzyme which converts histidine in the fish to histamine. This can occur as a result of temperature abuse of product at the catching or processing stage.

A trade level withdrawal of the affected batch has been undertaken and all affected product has been removed from the market, a statement from the Food Authority reads.

Soul Origin has confirmed that it has changed tuna brands.

 

Media reports “misleading and wrong”: Dept of Health

The Department of Health has said media reports that suggest health authorities waited a month to act from the first case of Hepatitis is misleading and completely wrong.

In a Senate Estimates hearing yesterday the Department stated that the three people in Victoria showed signs of Hepatitis A in early January. These cases were reported to national health authorities when these cases were confirmed and a potential link was established with the consumption of Patties frozen berries.

When the link was made Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Department of Agriculture ensured there was a voluntary recall of a range of berries from Patties Foods and the Federal Department of Health immediately activated a national health response.

The Department of Health said the first isolated cases that have since been associated with the consumption of frozen berries were notified in January but a pattern of infection could only be established as subsequent cases came to light.

“As each case was notified they were investigated by state health authorities like all cases of Hepatitis A.  A key part of the investigation is collecting and analysing histories of exposure to possible sources of infection. When possible common exposures to a source of infection are identified, further detailed investigation either confirms or dismisses the possible common source. This is important as Hepatitis A infections can arise from sources other than food such as poor personal hygiene or direct contact with infected faecal matter,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley said in a media statement.”

“In this instance, after investigation of cases and detailed analyses of food consumption histories, the Victorian authorities confirmed a possible association with frozen berries on Thursday 12 February 2015,

“We believe the Victorian authorities have acted quickly and diligently in responding to this outbreak,” Baggoley said.

The national foodborne disease surveillance network, OzFoodnet, was advised of the association between the frozen berries and Hepatitis cases on Friday 13 February 2015, and on the same day discussion with the implicated company was initiated.

A voluntary consumer level recall of Nanna’s frozen mixed berries 1 kilogram packs was issued on Saturday 14 February 2015, with subsequent precautionary recalls of Creative Gourmet, made from Sunday 15 February 2015.

As of 11am, February 26, there are 19 confirmed cases that meet the reporting case definition:

  • 7 in QLD
  • 7 in NSW
  • 3 in Vic
  • 1 in WA
  • 1 newly notified case in ACT 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called upon Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to prepare a submission for cabinet regarding country-of-origin by the end of March.

 

Government to make a move on country-of-origin labelling

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called upon Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to prepare a submission for cabinet by the end of March.

According to Fairfax Media, Tony Abbott said “For too long, people have been talking about country of origin labelling. And nothing much has changed.”

"Plainly, whenever we have a problem with imported food in particular, people want to know more about where their food, where their products are coming from."

The move comes after CHOICE renewed calls for tougher country of origin labelling rules after 18 people tested positive for hepatitis A after eating frozen Patties berries that were believe to be contaminated.

Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, has also called for an urgent independent review of Australia’s imported food safety regime.

Macfarlane said on Thursday that current labels were confusing and left consumers uncertain about where their food came from.

He said changes would likely result in new graphics on food labels, such as a pie chart or symbols indicating what proportion of a product was from Australia.

Nanna's Mixed Berries have been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak, but the source of the virus remains unconfirmed.

 

100 percent screening for frozen berries from China

100 percent screening will apply to frozen berries from factories in China linked to the Australian Hepatitis A incident, which have been held pending further testing.

The testing, announced by Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, and Assistant Minister for Health, Fiona Nash will include testing for Hepatitis A indicators.

All frozen berries from the facilities in question were immediately held as soon as the Hepatitis A issue came to light. In addition, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has provided interim advice upgrading the suspect frozen berries to “medium risk” following a request by the Department of Agriculture last week to review the risk status. Berries from these facilities are subject to 100 per cent testing at the border.

A recall to pull the stock off the shelves was also issued immediately upon news of the Hepatitis A issue, and the Department of Health’s National Incident Room was also activated in Canberra to manage the matter. Comprehensive testing of the berry product in question is being carried out with early results due this week.

Australian officials from the Department of Agriculture are on the ground working with the Chinese authorities on this matter. The Department of Agriculture has also sought information on supply chains from all importers of frozen berries from China.

The Chinese Government has carried out initial inspections of the packing facility implicated in the outbreak and has taken swabs for microbiological testing.

Additionally, and as part of the Department of Agriculture’s request, FSANZ will continue its broader and rigorous scientific assessment of the risk status of frozen berries from around the globe. The assessment is expected to take some weeks.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has advised that an estimated 1 per cent infection rate for people eating these berries is a very conservative upper limit which could be revised downwards as experts continue to examine all the data. In addition previous outbreaks of hepatitis A have shown that around 30 per cent of adults infected may not show symptoms at all and this is higher in children.

After careful assessment, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service has now advised that people who have eaten the berries can continue to give blood so long as they are not sick.

No person has ever contracted Hepatitis A from a blood transfusion in Australia.

Nanna's Mixed Berries have been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak, but the source of the virus remains unconfirmed.

 

Nanna’s Mixed Berries epidemiologically linked with the outbreak

Nanna's Mixed Berries have been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak, but the source of the virus remains unconfirmed.

There are 18 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A where the berries are the only common exposure.

Most people who contract Hepatitis A will recover with rest and fluids although it may cause severe illness in older people, those with chronic liver disease and those who are immunosuppressed.

Hepatitis A is spread via food and water, including ice that is contaminated with faecal matter from infected people. Practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding food preparation while ill are the most important factors in preventing further cases.

The products which have been recalled are:

  • Nanna's Mixed Berries 1kg pack
  • Nanna's Raspberries 1kg pack
  • Creative Gourmet's Mixed Berries 300g pack
  • Creative Gourmet's Mixed Berries 500g pack

Only the Nanna's Mixed Berries product has been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak. The other products have been recalled as a precaution.

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that 100 percent of Patties berries from the processing facility associated with the recent hepatitis A outbreak are being held pending testing.

The Department of Agriculture has received advice that the Chinese Government have carried out initial inspections of the packing facility implicated in the recent outbreaks of Hepatitis A and have taken swabs at the facility for microbiological testing, after seeking assurances about the safety of further shipments of frozen berries.

The Department of Agriculture has carried out a comprehensive interrogation of Australia's main system for managing imports, the Integrated Cargo System (ICS), to better understand the supply chains involved in the trade of frozen berries from China.

In addition, the Department of Agriculture has commenced a survey of all known importers of frozen berries from China to identify any supply chains that are not able to be identified through the interrogation of the ICS.

The Department of Agriculture has also formally requested a review of the risk status of frozen berries from Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

Anyone who has eaten the recalled frozen berries and feels unwell should consult their GP.

The Hepatitis A scare has pushed up demand for fresh Australian berries.

The recall has renewed attention on clearer country-of-origin labelling, with Barnaby Joyce calling for a framework that is unambiguous and compulsory.

 

Barnaby Joyce calls for clearer country of origin labelling

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has called for a country of origin framework that is unambiguous and compulsory.

According to Perth Now, Joyce promised to introduce a new, simpler labelling system for consumers, which would clearly state the country where the produce was grown, although there would be no bans on imported frozen products.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Minister Joyce has spoken to the Prime Minister about making changes to Country of Origin Labelling and will be presenting a White Paper with proposed changes soon.

“This is a good first step and we look forward to seeing solutions in the upcoming White Paper." said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey. "We now hope that any proposed country of origin system is more meaningful and clear for consumers,” 

Following the recall of frozen berries last week, Patties has increased its sample testing to 100 percent of all batches of imported frozen berries from all countries, not just China, for any microbial and viral markers such as HAV.

There is now 18 cases of hepatitis A linked to the recalled berries, but Patties said there is still no detailed viral analysis from accredited laboratories that proves any firm association of Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) with the recalled products.

CHOICE called on the Government to take action on country of origin labelling, launching a petition that resulted in over 17,000 petition signatures in just three days.

"This morning we released a new report showing almost half of the 55 frozen fruit and vegetable products we surveyed carried unclear or confusing origin statements."

CHOICE investigated the country of origin labelling on 55 packs of frozen mixed fruits and mixed vegetables and results show that 25 out of 55 products contain vague and unhelpful claims.

Some of the worst claims include "Packed in New Zealand", "Packed in Chile from imported and local ingredients" and "Processed in Belgium".

“These claims offer very little information about a product’s origin and are largely meaningless to consumers,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

Australia has recently experienced a growth in food imports. The value of frozen vegetable imports in 2013-14 moved up 12% to $256 million, and China – one of the countries associated with the latest food safety scare – remains our third largest source in this category.

 

Hepatitis A scare pushes up demand for fresh Australian berries

South Australia’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market has witnessed a stark increase in demand for Australian produced fresh blueberries and raspberries, following the Hepatitis A outbreak.

The Adelaide Produce Market, which collectively supplies wholesale volumes of fresh produce to supermarkets, greengrocers, cafes and other food service providers has reported that demand for blueberries in the past week has doubled, while demand for raspberries has increased by 50 percent.

"You just can't beat Australian grown fresh produce. Unlike the imported cheap, inferior frozen produce from overseas, we know exactly how our fresh produce was grown, when it was picked and how it was transported along the supply chain," Adelaide Produce Market CEO Angelo Demasi said.

Demasi said that it is unfortunate that during times of disaster, consumers only come to cherish and appreciate how good the produce grown in Australia really is.

"We are global leaders in producing premium fresh fruits and vegetables, so consuming cheap imported frozen produce doesn't make sense. We have no idea how it was produced and what quality control measures are in place," he said.

Blueberry supply will shorten slightly in coming weeks due to seasonal factors; however raspberry supply is expected to increase as the local season continues to strengthen.

13 cases of Hepatitis A in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and WA have been linked to frozen raspberries imported from China and repackaged by Bairnsdale-based Patties Foods.

Patties faces a class action suit, as Slater and Gordon is encouraging those who contracted Hepatitis A after eating the berries to come forward.

The Department of Agriculture has formally requested a review of the risk status of frozen berries from FSANZ and is seeking assurances from China about the safety of further shipments of frozen berries.

Products included in the recall are: Nanna’s Raspberries 1kg, Nanna’s Mixed Berries 1kg and Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries 300g and 500g.

 

Class action looms for Patties

A class action suit is looming for Patties, as Slater and Gordon encourage those who contracted Hepatitis A after eating the berries to come forward.

Slater and Gordon said the “nature of this contamination scare may also give rise to claims for compensation, and there are a number of legal issues to consider.”

The Australian Consumer Law regulates matters concerning the safety and quality of goods sold within Australia, and treats the local distributors of imported goods as though they were the manufacturers of their products. In this way, companies that sell consumer products in Australia, whether local or imported, can be held responsible for the quality of the goods they trade in.

Under The Australian Consumer Law, individuals who were injured as a result of a safety defect in goods have the right to claim compensation against the relevant manufacturer.

13 cases of Hepatitis A in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and WA have been linked to frozen raspberries imported from China and repackaged by Bairnsdale-based Patties Foods.

The law firm said it has been contacted by “a number of people” who are concerned about their health and legal rights.

The Department of Agriculture has formally requested a review of the risk status of frozen berries from FSANZ and is seeking assurances from China about the safety of further shipments of frozen berries.

Assistant Minister for health, Fiona Nash, said “Once FSANZ reports back to us with the information it is seeking from Chinese food authorities, we will be able to assess whether further steps need to be taken.

“If, upon consideration of all available information, the circumstances require a review of current arrangements or improvements to the system, we will act on this.”

Products included in the recall are: Nanna’s Raspberries 1kg, Nanna’s Mixed Berries 1kg and Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries 300g and 500g.

 

Australia asks China if further berry shipments will be safe

The Department of Agriculture is seeking assurances from China about the safety of further shipments of frozen berries.

Consumption of Nanna’s brand frozen mixed berries has been linked to the 13 cases of Hepatitis A in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and WA as of Wednesday afternoon (18 February).

The department has engaged with authorities through the Australian embassy staff in Beijing and is tracing products in supply chains as part of working with importers to manage potential risks.

The department has formally requested a review of the risk status of frozen berries from FSANZ. The department will also consider the outcomes of incident investigations conducted by the state and territory food authorities.

FSANZ provides advice to the department on which imported foods are considered to pose a risk to human health. In the case of the frozen berries, the department is working to gather information to determine what further action might be taken.

Assistant Minister for health, Fiona Nash said “Once FSANZ reports back to us with the information it is seeking from Chinese food authorities, we will be able to assess whether further steps need to be taken.

“If, upon consideration of all available information, the circumstances require a review of current arrangements or improvements to the system, we will act on this.”

The Department of Agriculture’s Imported Food Inspection Scheme (IFIS) is a risk-based border inspection scheme.

Food items that pose a medium or high risk to human health are called ‘risk foods’ and are tested at rate of 100 per cent until a good compliance history is established with a particular importer—they are then tested at a rate of 25 percent of consignments, dropping to a minimum rate of 5 percent of consignments if good compliance continues. The inspection rates are established in legislation.

Risk foods are typically pre-prepared, ready-to-eat foods including certain cheeses, cooked meats and seafood, and cured meats.

All other foods are considered to be ‘surveillance foods’. Surveillance foods are randomly inspected at a rate of 5 per cent of all consignments. Samples for laboratory analysis (tests may include chemical residues, heavy metals or natural contaminants) may be taken as well as assessing compliance with packaging and labelling requirements.

Routine testing for viruses in food can be problematic. FSANZ advises that this is because the virus in contaminated food is usually present at extremely low levels where the pathogen cannot be detected by available analytical methods.

The department’s imported food inspection scheme is a risk-based inspection scheme, and the rates of inspection and classification of imported foods can change with new information to hand.

Other government actions regarding the Hepatitis outbreak include:

  • The Department of Health had set up the National Incident Room up in Canberra to deal with the issue and will remain active until this issue is resolved.
  • The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, consisting of all State and Territory Chief Health Officers and chaired by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, met Tuesday (17 February) to coordinate jurisdictional public responses.
  • The OzFoodNet and the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia are conducting an investigation into the issue.
  • The National Food Safety Network, chaired by FSANZ met yesterday and is seeking further information from Chinese food authorities.
  • The National Blood Authority and the Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) are monitoring the situation closely and continue to take steps to protect the blood supply from the virus.
  • The Department of Agriculture formally requested a review of the risk advice from FSANZ about frozen berries, and will consider the outcomes from the incident investigations conducted by the state and territory food authorities.

The recall has prompted calls for stricter country-of-origin labelling.

Choice launched a petition calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, to take action on country-of-origin labelling.

“We are mobilising consumers to put pressure on the government to fix our country of origin labelling laws. The latest frozen food farce highlights how difficult it is under the current system for consumers to make informed choices in the supermarket,” says Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“Confused claims such as ‘Packed in Australia using imported fruit’ or ‘Made in Australia using local and imported ingredients’ offer very little information about a product’s origin and are largely meaningless to consumers. We deserve to know where our food comes from.”

"The petition has only been live for a few hours and already over 1600 consumers have signed up calling for the government to take action on country of origin food labelling," Godfrey said.

“We’ve had inquiry after inquiry on this issue. Year after year it rates as a top concern for Australian consumers. It’s time for action.

 “The best way to create labels for consumers is to test the language to find phrases that most people understand.  Consumer research must be undertaken before making any changes to the current labelling framework.”

“Consumers should be able to make informed decisions about the food they are purchasing and while country of origin labelling isn’t a proxy for food safety, the information is sought after by many shoppers,” Godfrey said.

 

Xenophon calls for a review of Australia’s imported food safety regime

Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, has called for an urgent independent review of Australia’s imported food safety regime in the wake of the widening hepatitis-A outbreak linked to frozen berries from China.

In addition, Senator Xenophon will be moving for a parallel Senate inquiry into the issue, with the aim of an interim report being provided within a month.

Xenophon said the outbreak undermined the confidence Australians placed in the safety of the $13.9 billion in imported food each year (2014 – ABS).

“This is a serious and widening outbreak of illness apparently caused by basic hygiene failures in China. These berries were considered ‘low risk’ but failed the most basic of health checks – carrying a bacteria common in faecal matter. Our entire imported food surveillance and risk management system, conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), must be independently reviewed so as to fix any systemic problems and clear the air,” Xenophon said.

“For example, the Government does not test for bacterial infections of foods, as part of its spot-checks of 5 per cent of low risk food imports. Our system is almost entirely reactive, in that it tests five per cent of food products as the enter the country. We should be looking at issuing permits to export to Australia, so that adequate sanitation and health checks can be carried out in advance.”

Senator Xenophon also said that the hepatitis-A outbreak strengthened the need for “unambiguous country-of-origin labelling laws. Currently you can call something ‘made in Australia’ so long as 51 per cent by value (including processing) was done in Australia – that’s nowhere near good enough for consumers to make an informed choice,” said Nick.

He said that a suitable independent review could run in parallel with a Senate inquiry by the Rural and Regional Affairs Committee, and he was preparing draft terms of reference.

“This is a red flag that none of us can ignore. I wrote today to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce requesting an independent review, while a Senate Inquiry will take a wide-ranging look at the health risks associated with the multi-billion dollar imported food sector,” said Nick.

The Greens party and Nick Xenophon have renewed focus on country-of-origin labelling by reintroducing a food labelling Bill on Thursday (18 Feb), before the berry recall was issued.

In response to the recall, Australian-Made has issued a warning to check country-of-origin labelling while Choice called on the Federal Government to take action on stricter country-of-origin labelling.

Eight people have been confirmed to have contracted the virus after eating frozen mixed berries, including three cases in Victoria, two in NSW, and the three Queensland cases reported on Monday.

 

Food labelling bill reintroduced to parliament

The Greens party and Nick Xenophon have renewed focus on country-of-origin labelling by reintroducing a food labelling Bill.

Australian Made Campaign chief executive, Ian Harrison said “The current issue with imported frozen berries highlights the need for clearer country-of-origin labelling, as it appears consumers may have been confused about where they came from.”

The “frozen berry issue” refers to the recall of four products distributed by Patties Foods was triggered after people reportedly contracted Hepatitis A after eating Nanna’s Frozen Mixed Berries.

Australian-Made has issued a warning to check country-of-origin labelling while Choice called on the Federal Government to take action on stricter country-of-origin labelling.

Australian Made Campaign chief executive, Ian Harrison said “While we welcome the reintroduction of this Bill, the Government is yet to announce its decisions on the food labelling enquiry undertaken last year by the House of Representatives Senate Committee on Agriculture and Industry. It would make sense to complete that review before commencing yet another one,” Harrison said.

For a number of years the Australian Made Campaign has been calling for the regulations under Australian Consumer Law to fall into line with the more stringent rules for using the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo, thereby eradicating critical loopholes that currently exist.

“The Australian Made Campaign supports – and in fact originated – the proposal to draw up regulations to clarify the concept of ‘substantial transformation’ and to specify processes which, by themselves, do not satisfy this test,” Mr Harrison said.

“The proposal to label food in such a way that highlights significant ingredients – ‘Made in Australia from Australian milk’ for chocolate, for example – as long as all requirements for a ‘Made in Australia’ claim are met, makes good sense as well.

“We still cannot however support the Bill in its current form. We do not see the value in banning the claims ‘Australian Made’ or ‘Made in Australia’ for food products in favour of the equivalent terms ‘Australian Manufactured’ or ‘Manufactured in Australia’.”

Mr Harrison said that a continual point of confusion for consumers was the use of qualified claims such as ‘Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients’. The Australian Made Campaign opposes the use of qualified claims unless the product satisfies the full ‘Made in’ test.

“Australian consumers have the right to know where their food has been made and grown, and it is important that we strengthen country-of-origin labelling for the benefit of Australia’s farmers and manufacturers as well – it is a vital asset in these trade-exposed sectors.”

Choice has criticised the current system, saying the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry missed an opportunity to simplify it.

Choice has called for the following changes:

  • ‘Product of Australia’ or “Australian produce” = significant ingredients and virtually all processing to be from the country claimed
  • ‘Manufactured in Australia’ = Relating solely to manufacturing
  • ‘Packaged in Australia’ = Relates solely to manufacturing
  • Consumer testing of any changes to ensure they are meaningful

Consumers with enquiries can call the Patties Consumer Hotline, 1800 650 069, between 7am and 9pm.