Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Soft fruit - healthy or hazardous?


Berries are often promoted as a healthy food and grabbing a punnet of blueberries may seem a darn sight easier than giving up smoking, cutting down on alcohol or taking daily exercise. Or indeed, easier than cutting down your total intake of fats and sugars. But of course it’s your entire dietary mix that matters, not whether or not you eat berries.
Fresh berries are expensive because they are so perishable but packets of cheaper frozen berries have now become widely available. These are advocated for all kinds of “healthy recipes” in magazines and cookery books. They are also used by manufacturers to decorate ready-made frozen desserts such as cheesecakes.
There have been two examples in the news recently of serious illnesses being contracted from eating frozen berries.
In Sweden three elderly people died from norovirus, contracted from eating a frozen dessert that contained berries of Serbian origin in  And in Australia, earlier this year, there were several cases of Hepatitis A, linked to frozen berries imported from China. 
Hepatitis A is linked to faecal contamination of food and norovirus can also be spread in this way.
If we were to give the EU berry farmers the benefit of the doubt, we would envisage their fields and packing areas equipped with fragrant portable toilets and well-equipped hand washing facilities. We might confidently envisage that their staff induction sessions include training on the importance of hand hygiene. Whether or not all farmers reach these high standards I cannot say. If we let our imaginations travel further afield then we might be less optimistic about hygiene in berry fields and processing plants. 

Berries are delicious and if you have a garden, growing your own soft fruit is a great way to use it. Fresh soft fruit  should be washed – but of course you can’t scrub a raspberry. As for imported frozen berries, they can potentially do you more harm than good. My advice is to avoid all uncooked berries if your immune system is compromised. And for everyone else, treat frozen berries as a cooking ingredient that needs to be thoroughly cooked before eating.

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