Ministry of Climate Change and Environment reaffirms continuous coordination with local authorities to ensure the safety of all imported and traded food products Image Credit: COURTESY Ministry of Climate Change and Environment

Abu Dhabi: The UAE has tightened controls on imports of frozen strawberries from Egypt that may be linked to a US health scare that saw 119 people falling ill from the hepatitis A virus, the government said on Saturday.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment on Saturday said it had instructed food control authorities in each of the seven emirates “to tighten control procedures on frozen strawberries imported from Egypt in order to avoid the entry of any contaminated products that pose a risk to the consumer in the country”.

An official statement issued on Friday by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that 119 people with hepatitis An illness had been reported from eight US states. Several US government agencies plan to work together to investigate the outbreak.

Hepatitis A is an acute infectious disease of the liver which is usually spread by consumption of contaminated food or drinks. It is rarely fatal.

Preliminary results announced by the FDA suggested that most of the recorded cases of hepatitis A involved consumption of smoothies containing frozen strawberries imported from Egypt at well-known cafés across USA, a statement issued by the UAE ministry said.

The ministry said that the US authorities are still coordinating with Egyptian officials to validate the results and that there was no additional information indicating the existence of additional cases of hepatitis A or any information about the existence of other American food outlets that used strawberries contaminated with hepatitis A virus.

’Urgent’ tests

Responding to rumours on social media, the ministry said: “ ... it is clear that the official report on FDA’s website does not conform to what has been circulated on social media platforms”.

However, the ministry on Saturday said it has taken precautionary steps. “Specialised authorities have begun conducting urgent tests, surveys and studies on a variety of vegetables and fruit products from different countries,” it said.

The tests will look for chemical contaminants, heavy metals, and microbes in contaminated water that may have been used in some imported foods.

The ministry is also in touch with international bodies, including the FDA and Egyptian authorities, to confirm the safety of food products entering UAE.

The ministry added that it “urges the public to refrain from posting or circulating news” on the health scare on social media platforms without first contacting authorities to verify and validate the credibility of the information.

The UAE ministry added that there is constant coordination with competent authorities in the country to ensure the safety of all imported and traded food products.