2014-2016 Viruses in Fresh Berries and Frozen Fruits

Summary

Produce such as fresh and frozen fruits have previously been identified as sources of contamination with viruses. Produce can become contaminated with pathogens during production, harvest, post-harvest handling, processing, packaging and distribution. Viruses infect humans primarily through contaminated food and water. In general, symptoms of infection can include gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) as well as fever, chills and muscle aches. Previous targeted surveys have reported on the detection of hepatitis A (HAV), norovirus (NoV) (Genotype I and II (GI, GII) and human rotavirus (HRV) RNA in fresh vegetables and berries. This report focuses on the detection of HAV and NoV (GI and GII) RNA in pre-packaged, ready-to-eat (RTE) fresh and frozen berries and frozen fruits.

Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians, fresh and frozen fruits were selected for targeted surveys. Over the course of this study (April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2016), a total of 1991 samples of fresh berries and frozen fruits were collected from retail locations in 11 cities across Canada and tested for viruses of concern (HAV and NoV (GI, GII)). HAV and NoV (GI) RNA was not detected in any of the samples tested, while NoV (GII) RNA was detected in 7 (0.4%) of the samples.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted appropriate follow-up activities for all viral RNA positive samples. These may include a variety of activities such as facility inspections, environmental and/or product sampling and removal of affected product from the marketplace. Following a food safety investigation, no product recalls or corrective actions were issued by the CFIA due to various reasons such as the inability to determine the source of the viral RNA and unavailability of product on the market. In addition, the analytical methods used to analyse the samples were unable to discriminate between infectious and non-infectious viral RNA rendering it difficult to determine the immediate health significance of a viral RNA positive sample. There were no reported illnesses linked to the viral RNA positive samples.

Overall, our survey results suggest that almost all fresh and frozen berries and frozen fruits are safe for consumption. Regardless, produce such as fresh and frozen berries and frozen fruits are a known potential source of foodborne illness and as such, safe handling practices are recommended for producers, retailers and consumers.

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