MOROCCO – The National Office for Food Safety in Morocco (ONSSA) has confirmed the safety of Moroccan strawberries exported to Europe, dispelling concerns of Hepatitis A virus contamination.

This conclusion comes after a rigorous investigation prompted by the activation of the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in Europe.

Following the alert raised by RASFF, ONSSA mobilized to address the issue. Extensive analysis conducted by the office revealed that the strawberries tested negative for both Hepatitis A and Norovirus, assuaging fears regarding their safety.

Samples were collected from irrigation water and strawberries at the production unit and field, all of which returned negative results for contamination.

Officials from ONSSA, in a statement to state media SNRTnews, emphasized their prompt response upon receiving the health notification.

An immediate investigation was launched, leading to the identification of the field and packaging unit implicated in the matter.

The statement highlighted the stringent monitoring protocols in place for field workers, reaffirming the dedication of Moroccan authorities to upholding food safety standards.

Moreover, it was clarified that the strawberries under scrutiny were solely intended for export purposes and were not destined for the local market, allaying concerns among domestic consumers.

Reiterating their commitment to food safety, the National Office for Food Safety underscored the effectiveness of its annual monitoring and surveillance program. This program encompasses hundreds of samples collected from various fruits, all consistently meeting health safety standards.

Hepatitis A concern

Hepatitis A contamination in fruit is not a novel concern. The initial outbreak was detected as far back as 2013, tallying over 1300 cases. However, recent data from SGS highlights a troubling resurgence in Hepatitis A cases since mid-2022, particularly within mixed berries and strawberries.

Last year, frozen strawberries and various berry blends intended for smoothies, retailed at Walmart, Costco, and HEB, were implicated in a Hepatitis A outbreak, prompting a voluntary recall. Concurrently, another outbreak tied to frozen strawberries, affecting Costco, Trader Joe’s, and other outlets in Los Angeles, California, instigated a multistate recall.

Additionally, in 2022, fresh organic strawberries were pinpointed as the culprit behind yet another multistate outbreak of Hepatitis A. This concerning pattern also extends to historical cases, such as a 2016 outbreak traced back to frozen strawberries.

Hepatitis A, colloquially known as “travel Hepatitis,” stems from the Hepatitis A virus (HAV) and induces liver inflammation. It is prevalent in regions characterized by subpar hygiene conditions.

The transmission of the Hepatitis A virus predominantly occurs through contact with fecal matter from infected individuals. This can transpire indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces like toilet fixtures, door handles, water faucets, and public transport handrails.

Furthermore, direct ingestion of contaminated water, tainted with feces, poses a significant risk of infection. Additionally, the Hepatitis A virus can infiltrate food sources. If proper hygiene protocols are neglected, inadequately cooked seafood, ice, ice cream, and fruits and vegetables can serve as reservoirs for this hazardous pathogen.

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