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Sunday, 28 August 2016

Ministry of Agriculture investigates strawberry link to Hepatitis A outbreak in US

Did Egyptian strawberries cause Hep A outbreak in Virginia? The Ministry of Agriculture is investigating claims that strawberries exported from Egypt are responsible for an outbreak of Hepatitis A in the United States that has so far reached 28 cases as of Thursday and has prompted a class-action lawsuit against the food chain that sold drinks made from the strawberries. Following a number of media reports from the United States regarding the outbreak, including a video apology from the CEO of Tropical Smoothie Cafe (0:55) assuring customers that strawberries are now sourced from Mexico and California, the Ministry of Agriculture began its own investigation, according to ministry spokesperson Edi Hawash, Food Safety News reported. However, the ministry stressed that as of last week, it had yet to receive any official request from any US government agency, and the random samples it has taken have yet to uncover any indication of the virus. US health officials are warning that anyone who consumed any food or drink at the smoothie franchise in Gainesville, Virginia between 28 July and 18 August may have been infected. According to a statement from the Virginia Department of Health dated 19 August, “genetic testing shows the illnesses were caused by a strain of hepatitis A that has been associated with past outbreaks due to frozen strawberries from Egypt.” Egypt exports 40 mn tonnes of fresh and frozen strawberries per year.

Separately, the domestic press reports that Egypt could harvest 800,000 qintars worth of cotton this year. Agriculture Minister inaugurated the new harvest season in Beni Suef yesterday. One qintar of cotton is about 160 kg.

Correction: In the original run of this story, we repeated Food Safety News’ erroneous claim that Egypt exports 40 mn tonnes of strawberries per year. According to the most recently available data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Egypt produced 422k tonnes of strawberries in 2013. We regret the error. H/t Mohamed M.

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