The UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) has issued a circular to specialised local authorities 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 consumers in the country.
This comes as the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) confirms 119 people have been diagnosed with Hepatitis A across eight US states.
Even as the FDA published an official report posted on its website highlighting the outbreak, the MOCCAE has further clarified the information given does not conform to what is being circulated on social media platforms regarding Egyptian frozen strawberry products and their relationship to the Hepatitis A outbreak.
In a press release, the ministry urged the public to refrain from posting or circulating any news on social media platforms without contacting the concerned authorities to verify and validate the credibility of that information before posting.
The ministry said it has coordinated with relevant food control authorities - Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, Dubai Municipality, Sharjah Municipality, Municipality and Planning Department in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain Municipality, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality and Fujairah Municipality - to clarify the information for consumers.
"After thorough investigations and reviewing the US Food and Drug Administration’s website, the MOCCAE and specialised official teams from concerned authorities have detected discrepancies between what has been circulated on social media and what is stated on the FDA’s website," it said.
The official report issued by the FDA stated that 119 people diagnosed with Hepatitis A have been reported in eight US states.
An epidemiological monitoring team from several US government agencies was formed to investigate and determine the causes of the outbreak, it added.
"The preliminary results indicated that most of the cases that have been recorded had consumed smoothies containing frozen strawberries imported from Egypt at well-known cafes across the US.
"The US authorities are still coordinating with Egyptian authorities to validate the results. The report stated that there was no further information indicating the existence of external cases of Hepatitis A.
"Nor was there any information about the existence of other American food outlets using strawberries contaminated with the Hepatitis A virus," the statement added.
The report also provided guidance for restaurants and institutions using strawberries and other products to ensure the implementation of proper hygiene procedures at all levels in preparing products - including washing hands and disinfecting surfaces, among others.
Through coordination with specialised authorities in the UAE, MOCCAE reaffirms that all imported and traded products undergo a strict control system in accordance with the best international practices at all stages of the food chain - including conducting of laboratory tests as per the risk assessment system, and an early notification system of foods that pose a risk to consumers’ health.
MOCCAE further stated it did not receive any regional or international notification with regards to the Egyptian products mentioned in reports circulated on social media platforms.
It also further reaffirmed there is constant coordination with competent authorities in the UAE to ensure the safety of all imported and traded food products.
Despite the fact that FDA’s report did not state that Egyptian products contain the contaminants mentioned in the news circulated on social media (such as formalin, salts unfit for human consumption, and additives prohibited for use internationally and other contaminants listed in the circulated news), the ministry confirms that specialised authorities have begun conducting urgent tests, surveys and studies on a variety of vegetables and fruit products from different countries, looking for chemical contaminants and heavy metals - as well as specific types of microbes that potentially may be present in contaminated water, to make sure that there are no indications from the use of contaminated water.
MOCCAE is coordinating with the Ministry of Health and health authorities in the UAE to monitor any case of Hepatitis caused by eating contaminated food.
It stated it is also communicating with international organisations and international authorities, including the US Food and Drug Administration and specialised authorities in Egypt, to ensure the safety of food products entering UAE.