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Norovirus risk from Chinese strawberries warning

By Nicholas Robinson , 04-Jul-2014
Last updated on 04-Jul-2014 at 13:22 GMT2014-07-04T13:22:53Z

Contaminated irrigation water is a potential source
Contaminated irrigation water is a potential source

Strawberries from China will be subject to stiffer checks for norovirus and hepatitis A at EU borders, following an alert about contaminated produce from the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).

The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) said norovirus in frozen strawberries and raspberries was an emerging public health risk.

It was not known whether the contamination occurred on farms or during processing. However, BIOHAZ identified the risk of increased rainfall as a potential source, as sewage enters irrigation water sources for fields of berries.

Contaminated

There should be more attention in the selection of irrigation water and the use of agricultural chemicals, said the BIOHAZ. And growers should avoid using water contaminated by sewage to prevent norovirus contamination.

Contaminated irrigation water is also suspected to be behind the contamination of fenugreek seeds with E.coli O104:H4 in Egypt in 2011. Contaminated sprouted seeds caused widespread food poisoning and 48 deaths in Germany and 15 in France.

In the EU, between 2007 and 2011, there were 27 norovirus outbreaks associated with raspberries and one with strawberries. In 2012 a batch of frozen strawberries was linked to an outbreak of norovirus in Germany, infecting 11,000 people.

Strawberries from China were among more than 100,000 non-animal derived food and feed items on a list of potentially hazardous products identified by the RASFF. Last year 11,808 of the products on the list were sampled in laboratories before entering the EU – an 11% increase on the previous year – according to the European Commission.

Risk

The latest BIOHAZ opinion on the berries is the second of five to address the risk of salmonella and norovirus in food. The first, published last year, looked at salmonella and norovirus in leafy greens.

Emerging food safety risks will be outlined by Professor Sarah O’Brien, chair of the Food Standards Agency’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food, at Food Manufacture’s one-day food safety conference: ‘Safe and legal food in a changing world’, which takes place on October 15 at the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon, Warwickshire.

For more information and to book your place at the conference, click here.