On July 22, the FDA announced that it is developing a food safety prevention strategy to enhance the safety of fresh and frozen berries. The move comes in response to multiple hepatitis A (HAV) and norovirus (NoV) outbreaks linked to the consumption of both fresh and frozen berries.
The FDA reports that there have been four HAV outbreaks and three NoV outbreaks linked to frozen berries from 1990 to 2016 in the U.S., and since 2011, there have been three HAV outbreaks linked to fresh berries, including a current outbreak linked to fresh organic strawberries.
In addition, from 1983 to 2018, there were 50 outbreaks globally that were attributed to frozen berries: 36 caused by NoV and 14 by HAV. The FDA noted that although freezing preserves berries it generally does not inactivate viruses that may be introduced at various points in the supply chain, such as by infected workers, contaminated water or contaminated food contact surfaces. In addition, fresh berries are generally eaten raw without a kill-step that could eliminate pathogens.
In August, the FDA plans to resume an assignment to collect and test frozen berries that it paused at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The assignment seeks to estimate the prevalence of HAV and NoV in frozen strawberries, raspberries and blackberries and help the FDA identify sites where practices or conditions may exist that constitute safety vulnerabilities.
The FDA also plans to work collaboratively with industry, academia and regulatory partners in the development of a food safety prevention strategy to identify measures that can be taken to limit or prevent contamination from occurring throughout the berry supply chain, approaches to re-enforce control measures and their application as well as areas where additional research is needed.