11,000 sick with Norovirus in Germany, 2012, linked to frozen strawberries imported from China

That’s a huge outbreak.

German researchers report in today’s Eurosurveillance (Volume 19, Issue 8, 27) that from 20 September through 5 October 2012, the largest recorded foodborne outbreak in Germany occurred. Norovirus was identified as the causative agent. We conducted four analytical epidemiological studies, two case–control studies and two surveys (in total 150 frozen.strawberrycases) in secondary schools in three different federal states. Overall, 390 institutions in five federal states reported nearly 11,000 cases of gastroenteritis. They were predominantly schools and childcare facilities and were supplied almost exclusively by one large catering company.

The analytical epidemiological studies consistently identified dishes containing strawberries as the most likely vehicle, with estimated odds ratios ranging from 2.6 to 45.4. The dishes had been prepared in different regional kitchens of the catering company and were served in the schools two days before the peaks of the respective outbreaks. All affected institutions had received strawberries of one lot, imported frozen from China.

The outbreak vehicle was identified within a week, which led to a timely recall and prevented more than half of the lot from reaching the consumer. This outbreak exemplifies the risk of large outbreaks in the era of global food trade. It underlines the importance of timely surveillance and epidemiological outbreak investigation for food safety.

Frozen fruit and Hepatitis A outbreaks in Europe

As European regulators work to help identify the origin of the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, the Coop in Denmark is pulling frozen strawberries after 52 people were sickened across Scandinavia in possibly related outbreaks.

The Copenhagen Post reports that frozen strawberries are suspected of being the source of an outbreak of 52 cases of hepatitis A across frozen.strawberryScandinavia, leading Coop to withdraw them from its stores.

The berries are from Egypt and Morocco and sold under the names “Sund Fornuft Jordbær”, “Irma Jordbær” and “Coop Jordbær”, and have been sold by Fakta, Irma, Dagli´Brugsen, LokalBrugsen, Kvickly and SuperBrugsen.

“We are not sure these berries are to blame for the outbreak but we dare not risk the health of our customers,” Coop spokesperson Karin Frøidt told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “We are [withdrawing the berries] to be extra safe.”

Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority says 15 sickened people had travelled to the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano, in Italy and that preliminary investigations have identified frozen berries as the most likely source of infection.