Up to 450,000 people may have eaten the frozen berries suspected of transmitting hepatitis A, as four more people were diagnosed with the disease on Saturday.
70,000 packets of the Chinese berries are sold each week in Australia, putting nearly half a million people at risk and sparking concerns over potential future cases.
18 people in total have been diagnosed with hepatitis A, which has an incubation period of seven weeks, leading health experts to believe that more cases will come to light.
Approximately two percent of the country’s population may have consumed the berries, said Finn Romanes, public health physician and Victorian government medical adviser.
‘We are still working on this outbreak and we think that there will be more cases come to light,’ Mr Romanes told The Australian.
Consumers are being urged not to buy or eat Nanna’s Raspberries one kilogram packs, Nanna’s Frozen Mixed Berries one kilogram packs and 300 and 500 gram packs of Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries.
While only the Nanna’s Mixed Berries product has been linked with the outbreak, and the other products have been recalled as a precaution, a Health Department spokesperson said that the source of the disease was still unconfirmed.
‘However, the berries are the only common exposure for cases,’ the Heath Department said in a statement on Saturday.
Despite the Federal government refused to release statistics relating to the scare, it has been revealed that three Victorians were the first to contract Hepatitis A, between Christmas and New Years.
The Victorians were all interviewed by health authorities, and found that all three had consumed the berries, corroborating similar findings in NSW.
An estimated one in 100 people who have eaten the contaminated berries will develop the disease, a figure which the Federal Health Department labelled as ‘worse case scenario’.
The Department of Agriculture is contacting companies that have imported Chinese berries to find out about the source of the berries and supply chain food safety management systems.
Early last week, the Red Cross Blood Service banned those who had eaten the berries from donating blood for two months, but lifted the ban on Saturday when they found the blood supply was not at risk.
It has been revealed the frozen berries are from the Shandong province in east China, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Cities and villages in Shandong are reportedly plagued by chemical and industrial waste pollution, with farming land laying adjacent to factories and petrochemical plants.
One river running through the village of Jinling is so polluted by nearby chemical factories that the water is red coloured and has a foul smell, according to local Chinese reports.
The small town of Jinling in east China’s Shandong province is located near the Qilu Chemical Industrial Park in Zibo City, according to the Epoch Times.
In previous reports, there have been claims that the company releases chemical distribution into the river, which was once sparkly clear but has now visibly been contaminated and also emanates a stench.
Residents also say there’s a ‘cancer virus’ floating around the village as cancer is quite common in the town.
This comes as reports emerged that health tests weren’t conducted on any frozen berry products imported to Australia while similar goods have been tied to hepatitis breakout in North America and Europe,The Australian reports.
Australia’s largest juice bar chain Boost Juice has also distanced itself from a growing Hepatitis A scandal after it emerged the company sources frozen berries from China.
Other major chains have taken Chinese Goji berries off the menu as a precaution amid growing customer concerns over imported fruit, after 13 cases of Hepatitis A in Australia were linked to frozen berry products imported from the country.
Boost Juice general manager Adam Neill says the company imports raspberries and strawberries used in their smoothies from China.
‘However, these berries are from different regions to those featured in current news reports and are not affected,’ Mr Neill said.
‘This fruit is Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) as it locks in all the health and nutrition benefits of fresh fruit and is packaged in Boost-dedicated facilities.’
Mr Neill added that Boost Juice individually tested each batch of fruit in accordance with HACCP (Australian) and SQF (International) standards.
‘One hundred per cent of our batches are also subject to microbiological and pesticide tests,’ he said.
‘Boost believes that any time Australian companies need to source product offshore, they should be testing every single batch.’
A spokesman for Kick! Juice, which operates juice bars all over Australia, said the company sources their berries from the same Chinese supplier used by Boost.
Four frozen berry products imported by Patties Foods, and sourced from China’s Shandong province, were recalled this week due to fears they are linked to the viral disease Hepatitis A.
A spokeswoman for juice bar chain Top Juice said the company had never sourced berries from China, but had decided to stop serving goji berries – which originate from China – as a precaution.
‘For the time being we aren’t supplying goji berries, the fact they are a Chinese berry we want to eliminate doubt from customers,’ she said.
‘We originally sourced [goji berries] from Australia and from the U.S., we’ve just removed that for the time being to maintain safety.
‘We have never sourced our berries from China because we don’t like the quality of them.’
She added that Top Juice – which operates 35 stores in New South Wales and Victoria – sources its strawberries and blueberries from Australia, blackberries and boysenberries from New Zealand, cranberries from the U.S. and acai berries from Brazil.