Seven people have been diagnosed with hepatitis A after eating frozen imported pomegranate purchased at Coles supermarkets, prompting NSW Health to warn anyone who bought the product to throw it out immediately.
Australian-grown pomegranate – both fresh and frozen – has not been implicated.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, director of communicable diseases at NSW Health, said it was working with the state’s Food Authority to determine whether the infection could be definitively linked to the Coles frozen pomegranates, despite the fact that each person affected had eaten the product.
The company behind the frozen pomegranate, Entyce Food Ingredients, said it was “exercising abundant caution” by recalling what it described as “a relatively small batch” of its 180 gram packets of Creative Gourmet Frozen Pomegranate which it said was sold only through Coles supermarkets.
This is not the first time the company’s products have been linked to hepatitis A.
It recalled its nationally sold Creative Gourmet mixed berries in February 2015 and again in June last year, to test whether the imported berries had caused separate hepatitis A outbreaks.
Genetic testing on some of the cases has identified a unique strain of hepatitis A. Those affected are from Sydney, Wollongong and the Central Coast.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever and yellowing of the skin, dark urine and pale stools.
“People who have eaten frozen pomegranate from Coles should consult their local doctor as early as possible should symptoms appear,” Dr Sheppeard said.
Symptoms of hepatitis A take from 15 to 50 days to develop and are caused by a virus that spreads in contaminated food or through poor hygiene.
Dr Sheppeard said those who had consumed frozen pomegranate from Coles in the past two weeks could benefit from a hepatitis A vaccination, if they were not already protected.
Health authorities are working with interstate counterparts to definitively link the Coles product to the outbreak and work out whether there have been locally-acquired cases elsewhere.
Producer denies link to virus, NSW Health stands by warning
NSW Food Authority chief executive Lisa Szabo said the outbreak appeared to be linked to imported frozen pomegranate.
“Fresh pomegranate has not been implicated, nor have Australian-grown frozen pomegranate products,” she said.
So far this year there have only been nine locally acquired cases of hepatitis A in NSW.
Entyce Food Ingredients said the recall was isolated to the one product.
“All product tested to date has been cleared and has not revealed a link to Hepatitis A, but the health and safety of our consumers is of paramount importance,” it said in a statement.
However NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said there was a need to issue a health warning against eating the fruit.
“Based on epidemiological information we think there’s sufficient level of evidence to go out with a precautionary advice around to not consume the pomegranates.
“We acknowledge the work of the company and the NSW food authority and other regulators are working with the company. The investigation is ongoing.”
All of the product’s best-before dates up to and including March 20, 2020, are being recalled.
“The recall affects less than 1 per cent of the Creative Gourmet fruit sold annually in Australia,” the company said.