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Tesco named as supermarket at centre of hepatitis scare

Public Health England confirmed the retailer was 'Supermarket X' it had linked with the infections from contaminated pork but said it 'attached no fault to the company'

Ben Chapman
Thursday 24 August 2017 11:16 BST
PHE stressed that the risk to public health from the virus is low
PHE stressed that the risk to public health from the virus is low

Tesco has been name as the chain which may have infected people with hepatitis E from contaminated pork.

Public Health England confirmed that the UK’s biggest retailer was the “Supermarket X” which had been identified in a study as the potential source of the virus in the UK.

Hepatitis E, or HEV, is thought to have entered the country in pork imports from the Netherlands and Germany. British pigs are not infected with the G3-2 strain of the hepatitis E which is thought to be behind most infections.

PHE said that, despite the findings, it “attache[ed] no fault to the company” and this is why it had previously concealed Tesco’s identity.

The PHE study did not test meat from supermarkets and find traces of HEV. Instead it studied the shopping habits of 60 people infected with HEV, and found that many had consumed pork products from one branch of Tesco, which the studiy's authors labelled Supermarket X.

HEV can cause darkened urine, pale stools and jaundice, as well as nausea, loss of appetite, tiredness, abdominal pain and fever. In rare cases it can lead to liver failure and even death.

However, PHE stressed that the risk to public health from the virus is low. It is “usually a mild, self-limiting illness which most people will clear without any symptoms,” PHE said.

A spokesperson for PHE explained its reasons for not previously naming Tesco on Wednesday: “Tesco was not named in our study because we attach no fault to the company. This study was a statistical analysis that found an association between clinical hepatitis E and sausage and ham products rather than direct causation.

“Most of the cases involved the G3-2 hepatitis E strain, which has not been found in UK pigs, and the appearance of this strain is likely to reflect complex animal health practices within Europe, rather than any processes used by the retailer. PHE understands all sausages sold under the Tesco brand are exclusively sourced within the UK.

“The Food Standards Agency is working with government, industry bodies and scientists across Europe to better understand and address the risk of foodborne hepatitis E infection.”

The FSA advised that people are unlikely to acquire hepatitis E virus from eating thoroughly cooked pork or pork products. It reminded consumers that all whole cuts of pork, pork products and offal should be thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, the meat is no longer pink and juices run clear.

Tesco welcomed the PHE statement which it said recognises Tesco products were not the cause of the hepatitis E infections.

A spokesperson for the company said: "The sausages on sale at Tesco at the time of the research were sourced from the UK and continue to be today.

“We do of course recognise the risk of hepatitis E in pork and work very closely with farmers, suppliers, PHE, FSA and the industry to reduce its risk.”

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