LAST week's recall of Creative Gourmet frozen berries over another hepatitis A contamination has prompted the local industry to highlight the quality of Australian produce.
The food safety regulator issued the "precautionary" recall on Friday, asking anyone who had bought the Creative Gourmet Frozen Mixed Berries 300-gram product with a best-before date before January 15, 2021 to return it immediately to the supermarket for a refund.
The product was recalled after health authorities made a potential link between four new hepatitis A cases - including one in Victoria - and the berries.
About 45,000 packets of the berries are affected. The berries were sourced from Canada and China and packed in Australia.
Though the recall has the potential to scare off consumers from frozen berry products, Raspberries & Blackberries Australia (RABA) chair, Greg Jarman, says Australian berries are grown and packed under strict food safety guidelines and consumers should have complete confidence Australian berries are safe to eat.
"The hepatitis A virus is not endemic in Australia as it is in some other production regions around the world,” he said.
Raspberry and blackberry production in Australia has tripled over the past four years with
production areas developing across the country to create year-round supply.
“We now have new areas in Queensland, Northern New South Wales and Western Australia
producing fruit over the winter months, something unheard of eight years ago,” Mr Jarman said.
“The strong demand from Australian consumers has also seen traditional production areas in Victoria and Tasmania increase supply dramatically.”
The main market for Australian berries is for fresh supply and consumption.
Frozen Australian-grown berries are available although quantities are still relatively small.
Mr Jarman said consumers should shop around as these frozen berries are clearly marked Australian grown and packed but the abundance of fresh berries all year round still makes them an easier choice.
Creative Gourmet mixed frozen berries were recalled in 2015 after being linked to a separate hepatitis outbreak.
The brand was sold by its owner, Bairnsdale-based Patties Foods, to Entyce later that year.
A spokesman for Entyce said a packet was tested by the Victorian Health Department on Friday, but no traces of the virus were found.
"Consumers can be confident that the recalled batch of Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries 300g is an isolated one and the recalled batch is no longer available on supermarket shelves," the spokesman said.
According to the Creative Gourmet website: "We source our fruit according to strict criteria with our Quality Assurance Specialists who personally and regularly inspect all our farms and are always in attendance at the processing facility during the harvest season."
The Fresh Produce Safety Centre (FPSC) Australia - New Zealand released a fact sheet on the product recall, answering common questions about the situation.
Food safety in Australia comes under the regulatory authority of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the Australian Food Standards Code as adopted by the States and Territories.
"The Code stipulates, among other things, that so-called ‘food businesses’ must implement a food safety program based on Codex HACCP," the FPSC said.
"Such a program includes the ability to manage suppliers. Clearly, despite the preventive controls in place, a contamination event has taken place and passed undetected through the supply chain.
"A foodborne illness outbreak is not a sign of the failure of regulation. Our regulatory system is widely recognised as being very good.
"Outbreaks are usually the result of short-term human error and are best resolved by corrective action, putting processes in place to address the cause of the problem.
"The preventive controls already in place should be capable of preventing outbreaks such as this."