The owner of a frozen berry brand linked to a Hepatitis A contamination scare has apologised to customers for the infected batch.
Fruzio Mixed Berries was last night identified by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) as the potential source of the scare. The mix of blackberries and strawberries comes in 500g and 1kg bags, with berries imported from China.
The product has been recalled, and anyone with Fruzio Mixed Berries in their freezer is advised to throw them out.
Mike Glover, owner of FSL Foods, which produces Fruzio, apologised to customers this morning.
"[I] express apologies to the people that have been ill and for our customers out there to understand that we believe that at all times we are putting safe products in front of them," he told Radio New Zealand.
"This has been a devastating blow to us all."
Last night Mr Glover told NZME he was "devastated" by the news his berries were the source of the Hepatitis A contamination, which has seen four people struck down with the disease.
"We're obviously devastated that a product we have sold to our loyal customers has been found to have traces of Hepatitis A," he said.
His Nelson-based firm had been importing from the Shandong-based suppliers for seven years.
MPI spokesman Peter Thomson said the department had so far identified four cases of Hepatitis A linked to the frozen berries, and said it was "entirely possible" more people could fall ill.
The Ministry has not been able to rule out the possibility of further recalls, he told Radio New Zealand.
"I don't have dates and timelines for when the product entered the country... that's where our investigation continues across the entire supply chain," he told the broadcaster.
"We've got a lot of product coming into the country not just with this company, but we're continuing to investigate and if we get more information confirming a risk to the public we'll be issuing other recalls.
"We just need to keep working the problem and examining the data and collecting more data on the supply chain until we're satisfied that we've run the leads down sufficiently. But this is all about safety of consumers, so if we do get any further concerns then we'll be letting people know."
The four people who were infected with Hepatitis A sought medical help during the period between late October to mid-November, Mr Thomson said.
"But of course the onset of the disease, the symptoms can take quite a long time, between 15 and 50 days, which is part of the reason why this has been a difficult investigation as we try to get people to recall what they have eaten over that extended period of time."
Frozen berries had a shelf life of up to three years, Mr Thomson said, so the contaminated batch could have come at any point over that time. However, he said with the volumes of frozen berries coming into the country, it's likely they would "move through the system fairly well".
"We don't know the extent of any contamination event that might have occurred during the supply chain... and that's why we can't just conclude that we've got everything."
What you need to know:
• Fruzio Mixed Berries has been identified as the source of imported frozen berries linked to a Hepatitis A scare.
• The infected berries are sold in 1kg and 500g bags, and contain blackberries and strawberries.
• The bags are being recalled, but it is not yet known exactly which batch could be infected.
• If you have this product at home, you're advise to bin it.
• Further recalls can't be ruled out at this stage, so MPI has issued some food safety guidelines:
• Consumers are advised to wash their hands before eating and preparing food.
• Imported frozen berries should be briefly boiled before eating, or ensure cooking exceeds 85C for one minute.
• Elderly people, and those with chronic liver damage, should avoid imported frozen berries that have not been heat treated.
• If you are concerned about a potential risk to your health, or the health of others, you should seek advice from your medical practitioner, or call the Ministry of Health's Healthline: 0800 61 11 16.
• If you are concerned about the safety of food products, contact the MPI consumer helpline on 0800 00 83 33.