The truth behind the frozen berries Hep A outbreak is more disgusting than we thought.
“Don’t drink the water.”
And the second?
“Don’t eat cut fruit.”
Yet, right now, sitting in my freezer is a packet of cut and frozen mangos – a product of Vietnam. I’ve been putting them in my smoothie every morning. So far, nothing bad has happened. But others aren’t so lucky. There have been at least 13 cases of Hepatitis A linked to packets of frozen berries in the past week. School children in South Australia and Victoria have been exposed to the contaminated products, and, because the disease takes up to seven weeks to show symptoms, there are likely to be more cases.
The irony that most of the people eating the frozen berries were doing so to stay healthy would be delicious, if the reality wasn’t so disgusting. The way in which many of the berries were used – uncooked, straight from the packet, in smoothies – made the chance of infection even worse.
Where were these berries grown? China. A country where the first thing people tell you (people who don’t work for the Chinese government, at least) is “Don’t drink the water.”
Another thing that you might not hear about China, but that you should probably know is that they’ve been using a fertiliser called ‘Night Soil’ for several hundred years. What is ‘night soil’? It’s solid human waste. Yep, poo.
When night soil is treated properly it can be safe. But in a country where making a fuss can land you in prison, where giant pools of stinking foam occasionally rise from the ground with no explanation, and where 300,000 people in Shanghai alone were once stricken with Hepatitis A in one outbreak – do you really trust that the waste has been treated properly?
Even if the berries weren’t grown in night soil – and there’s no evidence that they were – how can you be expected to wash berries to an acceptable standard when half the country’s drinking water is, well, undrinkable?
Australia’s outbreak isn’t the first of its kind. The United States and Europe have both suffered similarly at the hands of frozen berries.
But, hopefully, this outbreak can be the last of its kind in Australia. Because hopefully, this outbreak will serve as a wakeup call.