Sun-dried tomato processing practices possible cause of Hep A outbreak - FSA

By Mark Astley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Hepatitis a, Hepatitis

UK food safety officials have pinpointed sun-dried tomatoes as a potential source of the infections (Photo copyright: Klearchos Kapoutsis)
UK food safety officials have pinpointed sun-dried tomatoes as a potential source of the infections (Photo copyright: Klearchos Kapoutsis)
Contamination during sun-dried tomato processing is a possible “root cause” of an outbreak of hepatitis A in the UK, according to the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).

A FSA spokesperson told that the contamination of sun-dried tomatoes during processing is one possible source of the outbreak, which has infected a total of five people in the UK and a cluster of people in the Netherlands.

The FSA and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has pinpointed the product as a potential source, after it emerged that several of those infected had consumed the product prior to becoming ill.

Other foods such as shellfish, berries, salads and raw vegetables, are being considered as potential sources, the HPA added.

Possible root cause

“At the moment, no retailers, brands or batches have been identified as a possible source of the contamination,”​ said FSA spokesperson Brad Smythe.

“Nothing has been confirmed yet, but contamination during processing is a possible root cause in this case. That is one possibility.”

Hepatitis A is predominantly spread through traces of faecal matter containing the virus contaminating hands, objects, water or food and is then taken in through the mouth, according to the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA).

“The investigation is on-going, but we are not at the stage where we can identify an exact source. At the moment we are just looking at building on the information established in the HPA epidemiological study,”​ Smythe added.

Two UK cases of the infection were confirmed in October 2011, following three in 2010 and a cluster of cases in the Netherlands that were later linked to sun-dried tomatoes.

In both recent cases, sun-dried tomatoes had recently been eaten.

One of the three 2010 cases had consumed sun-dried tomatoes while in the Netherlands.

Identical strain

A HPA statement confirmed that the recent cases of hepatitis infection have identical strain to those seen previously in the UK associated with the consumption of sun-dried tomatoes.

“Consumption of semi-dried tomatoes is therefore one course that is currently being investigated as a cause of these infections. The HPA is working with the Food Standards Agency as part of the on-going investigation,”​ the HPA statement added.

Hepatitis A, which can lead to inflammation of the liver, is not very common in the UK.

It is more common in countries where sanitation and sewage disposal are poor – particularly in Africa, parts of Asia, Central America and southern and eastern Europe.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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