Health authorities in the Australian state of Victoria are warning consumers to avoid eating semi-dried tomatoes unless they have been thoroughly cooked.
The warning was first issued in late May, after health authorities in Victoria and South Australia noticed a spike in reports of Hepatitis A infections. Many of the victims reported having eaten semi-dried tomatoes. The Victoria Minister of Health repeated the warning several days ago, after 23 new cases of hepatitis were diagnosed.
There have been more than 200 reported cases of hepatitis A so far this year in Victoria, compared to only 74 during the first 10 months of 2008.
Investigators in Victoria and South Australia are still puzzled as to the origin of the contaminated semi-dried tomatoes. The 10-50 day incubation period for hepatitis doesn't help matters. How many of us can remember everything that we have eaten one or two months ago?
Hepatitis A virus is transmitted by the fecal-oral route. Live virus is shed in the stool of infected individuals. Virus-contaminated water, if used for irrigation, can contaminate produce in the field. Also, unless victims pay scrupulous attention to personal hygiene, they can transfer the virus onto the surface of foods that they handle, or onto serving utensils. An individual who is suffering from, or recovering from, hepatitis should never prepare food for others, either in a commercial environment or at home.
Until the current hepatitis mystery has been solved, treat semi-dried tomatoes as you would treat raw sprouts.
- Do not eat salads or sandwiches that contain semi-dried tomatoes
- It's safe to eat semi-dried tomatoes that have been cooked - for example, on a pizza or in an omelet.
If you experience any symptoms of hepatitis infection, contact your physician and your local health authority immediately.