Imported Berries and the Source of Your Food | What you Need to Know to stay Healthy with Grace Gawler

The food we eat, lifestyle and it its impact on health remains controversial and confusing. Recent media exposure of some of the entrepreneurs of dietary approaches for cancer has brought even more confusion. What can you do realistically to improve health through nutrition? Can diet prevent cancer and more importantly can it impact growth of cancer once it has proliferated. I will be exploring these questions over the coming weeks.

The food we eat, lifestyle and it its impact on health remains controversial and confusing. Recent media exposure of some of the entrepreneurs of dietary approaches for cancer has brought even more confusion. What can you realistically do to improve health? Can diet prevent cancer and more importantly can it impact growth of cancer once it has proliferated. I will be exploring these questions over the coming weeks. Through our health promotion not for profit charity; and a series of informative blogs, my internet radio show “Navigating the Cancer Maze” and seminars; over the next few months we will be helping you navigate the complex cancer and nutrition maze.

Fresh Produce from the Sunday Farmer's Market Gold Coast Racecourse
Fresh Produce from the Sunday Farmer’s Market Gold Coast Racecourse

 The aim is to help you make better choices, become more connected with the food you eat and to buy and prepare food wisely. The latest food “wake-up call” for Australian consumers has been initiated by the Hepatitis A Berry debacle.

From the nutritional viewpoint, there is strong scientific evidence that eating blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and other berry fruits has beneficial effects on the brain and may help prevent age-related memory loss and other changes. (ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry)

Phyto-chemicals in berries help increase brain function. Some top brain surgeons are now recommending increasing berries in your diet if you have a brain tumour.

Nannas raspberries
Fresh homegrown raspberries

 High in antioxidants and  pigments beneficial to health; berries have always been a food that increases and value-adds to various functions within the body. During the past few years berries like so many other “what used to be called food that that was good for you”, have been elevated to celebrity status as “Superfoods”! The “Superfood” label has been a very successful marketing ploy that has convinced consumers to eat exotic foods grown in far away lands (Goji berries-Grown in China-imported to Australia, Chia seeds Grown in India/South America – imported to Australia and so on etc).

We need to heed the wake-up call re imported foods and education is pivotal to avoid health problems particular in those who are immune compromised through cancer or other illnesses.

Another recent example of an outbreak of symptomatic hepatitis A virus infections was in May 2013. The virus spread across 10 US states and was associated with imported frozen pomegranate arils imported from Turkey and manufactured in the USA by an organic group.  These were identified as the vehicle early in the investigation by combining epidemiology—with data from several sources—genetic analysis of patient samples, and product tracing. There were 165 cases known to have been affected. Hepatitis A is spread when human feces contaminate food or when an infected food handler prepares food without using proper hygiene. Human feces are expected as the cause of the outbreak, according to the Wall Street Journal.

  • No matter how “Super” a food is – our foods are still subject to spoilage, issues form light exposure, contamination from bacteria, viruses, environmental pesticides and in some countries of the world – even parasites; useful information when traveling, especially in parts of Asia.
  • Most people believe that home grown or organically farmed food is best and has superior taste – which is true; but it is not only the nutritional value of fresh food; food handling knowledge and storage is still important.
  • Just as important a question as what is in your food – is the question who has been handling your food before you?
  • Even though you may purchase beautiful produce from a Farmer’s market which I do – Cleaning, washing  and storing your fruit and vegetables appropriate is essential for good health. Proper food handling is a science in itself and by not adhering to basic principles; you can put your health at risk whether you are a cancer patient or not. Here is an example of poor food handling: Note the Farmers Market image top left top of page – THis is produce I bought last Sunday  – I washed all the produce – with the exception of potatoes. Note the dirt is still on the potatoes and they have direct contact with the lettuce leaves.  Given that the potatoes are grown organically contaminants from the dirt from animal/human faeces or other pathogens can easily migrate to to the lettuce which will be eaten raw.  Poor food handling method!
  • I have a great deal of healthy respect for the microscopic world- these humble little bugs; some which are good and some that are not good can quickly disable us and compromise health. Last year one of my cancer patients who was very pro raw produce had a significant life threatening incident when eggs from a local supplier had been contaminated with Clostridium. Within 10 minutes of ingesting his raw eggnog – he collapsed and within hours he was on life support in hospital. He recovered but the damage to his muscles and neurological system was extensive – he later died as a result of the bacterial onslaught. Another patient was making yoghurt from raw milk, warmed but not pasteurized, and almost lost their life due to bacterial contamination in the milk – a similar incident occurred when someone passed on to my client; a “special” yoghurt culture that had been made with raw milk – they became very ill and their cancer treatment was set back months due to the severity of the infection.
  • Prevent and know about food borne illness Download this excellent PDF Bacterial Foodborne Illness

External contaminants: About the safety of frozen berries – in particular Raspberries:

Cancer patients often use frozen berries as a tasty key ingredient to make their nourishing and ” bowel-friendly” smoothie drinks. So what the problem with eating frozen berries?

Frozen raspberries
Imported frozen raspberries

It all sounds as rosy as the berry’s colour itself; but for two facts – Hepatitis A contamination recently discovered in frozen raspberries imported from China; and in addition, high levels of pesticides and fungicides used on these foods.
Download the PDF;
“Know what’s in your frozen berries”: Brands under the microscope

  1. Hepatitis A How did it get into frozen berries? Hepatitis A is transmitted by the “faecal-oral” route and is the only common food-borne disease preventable by vaccine. It is one of five hepatitis viruses that infect the liver. While hepatitis B and C can turn into chronic hepatitis, hepatitis A generally does not; although it can lead to liver failure and death.

People who have contaminated hands can transmit the virus. Hepatitis A is a contagious disease. It travels in faeces, and can spread from person to person, or can be contracted from food or water. In cases of contaminated food, it is usually the person preparing the food who contaminates it. The food handler will probably not know they have the virus, since the virus is most likely to be passed on in the first two weeks of illness, before a person begins to show symptoms.

So the infection that appears to be linked to Nanna’s Berries could have been spread by someone working at the processing plant, who was infected with hepatitis A and did not wash their hands properly before handling the berries. Alternatively, because the virus is excreted in stool, it could also be that a water supply that’s been contaminated with sewage containing hepatitis A virus has been the problem. Water from that source could have been involved in the processing. Human excrement deposited in a field could also be a source.
Freezing and the viability of the Hepatitis A Virus:

While the virus does not grow in the frozen food, but rather it remains suspended state. Even so, it remains infectious and is essentially preserved during transport.  When the food starts to thaw, the virus becomes active again. It’s not just viruses, like hepatitis A, but the bacteria we associate with food-borne illnesses, like salmonella, e- coli, listeria, these all can survive freezing temperatures.

Does cooking kill the hepatitis A virus?

While cooking can kill the virus, the food needs to be thoroughly heated to above 85 degrees Celsius. If you heat food for a minute or two at that temperature, you should kill hepatitis A; however if you heat it to a lower temperature than that, then it can still survive.

1. BERRIES- What can you do apart from discarding or returning any frozen berries? Berries are not the only culprits when it comes to health threats. Make a decision for you and your family’s health – eat local fresh foods in season – buy organic where possible especially the foods that that you consume the most and the ones known for pesticide contamination. Wash in vinegar solution, rinse and  dry off before storing. (

2. Discover the location of your local Farmer’s Market – buy direct from the growers and following handling and storage rules.

3. Avoid consuming imported produce from unknown sources or countries known for using pesticides not permitted here: for example: FROM The Sydney Morning Herald (Feb 21 2015): consumer group Choice commented: The outbreak has highlighted concerns about country-of-origin labelling on food. Choice has tested 55 packs of frozen mixed fruits and mixed vegetables and found nearly half the labels on the packs had “vague” or “unhelpful” information.  Choice said some of the worst claims included “Packed in New Zealand”, “Packed in Chile from imported and local ingredients” and “Processed in Belgium”. (GG added –  But grown where?)

4. The case against raw food for cancer patients:

As per my example re raw eggs and raw milk – Consuming your vegetables raw can cause you to ingest bacteria or food borne illnesses that can actually be detrimental to your health. Understanding the risks associated with consuming raw vegetables will help you learn the importance of cooking your food thoroughly – yes “cooking foods” so you can avoid coming in contact with substances that may be toxic. Washing well may not always rid the produce of contaminants. For a healthy person – this might not be a problem – but for the immune compromised – it can be really serious.

You may be able to impact bacterial and pesticide/fungicide residues and viral contaminants by using good old fashioned vinegar. Professor Peter Collignon, infectious disease physician at the Australian National University’s Medical School, was asked about the value of vinegar for cleaning. I use it on all vegetables and fruits that I buy from the Market.

I shop each week at the Farmers Market – as soon as I unpack the produce at home, I soak all my produce in a vinegar solution – then rinse and dry and place if fridge. I keep soil contaminated produce away from other foods.

Please let me know if you have found this information helpful – Feedback helps me to know what you want to Know. If you have a question or topic you would like addressed on this blog or on my radio show from an expert in the field – please write to me via the contact page on this blog.

Until next time….Wishing you good health