Following outbreaks linked to frozen strawberries in Sweden and Austria in 2018, 65 cases linked to the same hepatitis A virus strain were detected in Germany between October 2018 and January 2020, presenting in two waves.
Two case–control studies and a comparison of cases’ consumption frequencies with purchase data from a large consumer panel provided strong evidence for frozen strawberry cake as the main vehicle of transmission. Of 46 cases interviewed, 27 reported consuming frozen strawberry cake and 25 of these identified cake(s) from brand A spontaneously or in product picture-assisted recall.
Trace back investigations revealed that the Polish producer involved in the previous outbreaks in Sweden and Austria had received frozen strawberries from Egypt via a wholesaler that also delivered frozen strawberries to manufacturer of brand A. Phylogenetic analyses linked the outbreak strain to similar strains formerly isolated from sewage, stool and strawberries in Egypt. Complete trace back and timely recall of products with strong evidence of contamination is important to control an outbreak and prevent later resurgence, particularly for food items with a long shelf life.
Continued molecular surveillance of hepatitis A is needed to identify outbreaks and monitor the success of food safety interventions.
Resurgence of an international hepatitis A outbreak linked to imported frozen strawberries, Germany, 2018 to 2020