23 Apr 2024

New import rules to avoid repeat of hepatitis A outbreak

3:43 pm on 23 April 2024
Frozen berries

Frozen berries coming into New Zealand will have to meet new import rules. Photo: 123RF

NZ Food Safety has clarified that its change affects overseas manufacturers not importers as originally stated.

Frozen berries coming into New Zealand will have to meet new import rules, in a bid to improve food safety.

The move follows an outbreak of hepatitis A virus associated with frozen berries in 2022- 2023 which affected 39 people.

New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) deputy director-general Vincent Arbuckle said the new import requirements for frozen berries were a win-win for consumers and food importers.

"New Zealand was among a number of countries which recalled frozen berries at different times due to concerns about the presence of hepatitis A. We've worked hard to the identify and implement ways to improve food safety rules to better manage the risk to consumers.

"As part of this we worked closely with major frozen berry importers, who have expressed strong support for the changes."

NZFS said the work to strengthen the requirements was acknowledged in a recent Office of the Auditor-General report into monitoring importers of high-risk foods as 'robust and in line with international best practice'."

In a first for New Zealand, the change introduces the use of independent certification to confirm an overseas manufacturer's food safety systems meet New Zealand's food safety standards.

"This gives us more confidence that risks associated with frozen berries are being managed off-shore before they come to New Zealand," Arbuckle said.

The changes will come into effect on 1 August, and importers have 18 months to transition to the new import requirements.

Food Safety said in its statement that now the outbreak was over, and affected products had been removed from the shelves, the risk to consumers had reduced - but still remained a possibility.

If consumers had concerns or were part of a vulnerable population group, frozen berries can be heat-treated to over 85C for at least one minute.