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New rules for importers of frozen berries

New rules for importers of frozen berries

Importers of frozen berries will have to prove their fruit comes from farms and factories with strict sanitation standards after the nationwide hepatitis A outbreak this year.

With the product at the centre of the scare still off shelves, the Federal Agriculture Department enacted new health regulations, with the threat of up to 10 years jail if importers do not comply.

The department will also begin testing berries for E.coli after the rash of food poisoning cases highlighted inadequate screening and lax product labelling rules.

Victoria's Patties Foods recalled Nanna's 1kg frozen mixed berries after people were diagnosed with hepatitis A after eating this brand, which was packed in China.

Nanna's 1kg frozen raspberries and Creative Gourmet mixed berries were recalled as a precaution.

There were early fears that one in 100 people who ate contaminated berries could develop hepatitis A - potentially 4500 cases - but health officials said yesterday 34 tested positive, including two in WA.

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Hepatitis A - the facts

The source of the infection remains unknown but the only common element was all patients ate the same brand of berries. Tests on an unopened pack found traces of the virus.

Thirty companies import frozen berries from China.

The food safety watchdog says correctly handled berries do not pose a medium or high threat to health but the new rules require importers to follow good agricultural and hygienic practices throughout the supply chain.

These include no contact with faecal matter or animals, clean and sanitised equipment, the product stays frozen and clean water is used for growing and washing berries.

Before they can ship berries into Australia, importers will have to review suppliers and keep records of these assessments.

Five per cent of berry consignments will be tested for E.coli, which can be a sign of poor hygiene. Testing for hepatitis A can be difficult because levels of the virus in food may be too low to be detected.

If a consignment of berries fails a test and an importer cannot show sanitation and hygiene standards were followed, the possible penalty is 10 years jail.

Patties Food says it has implemented one of the most rigorous testing regimes in Australia and screens every container of imported frozen berries.