A major UK supermarket could have infected thousands of people with a strain of hepatitis E through its pork sausages, says researchers at Public Health England (PHE).
The infection, which has seen an “increase in the number of non-travel cases” since 2010, is believed to have come from a British supermarket, only known as Supermarket X.
The discovery came after researchers found the consumption of ham and sausages from one particular supermarket to be the common denominator in people infected with the virus.
The infected pork is believed to have originated from Europe, most likely the Netherlands or Germany. The virus strain has not been found in British pigs according to the report published last month.
Includes ready-to-eat pre-packed sliced ham
Researchers Bengu Said and Professor Richard Tedder of PHE’s National Infection Service said, “The implicated products are pork sausages, which require cooking prior to consumption, and ready-to-eat pre-packed sliced ham.”
“Only Supermarket X, especially own brand, was significantly associated with HEV.”
The research paper discovered that as many as 150,000 to 200,000 people a year contract the HEV G3-2 strain of the virus from infected pork.
The researchers added, “The association with the supermarket does not infer any blame.”
Cook meats thoroughly
The HEV infection can cause flu like symptoms and result in liver failure, it can also prove particularly fatal in pregnant women.
An FSA spokesperson said that there is not a major risk of contracting the infection from meat though.
“The risk from acquiring hepatitis E virus (HEV) from eating thoroughly cooked pork or pork products is low.”
“As a precaution, the FSA advises 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,” the FSA added.
Although both the PHE and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have refused to name Supermarket X, The Sunday Times have reported that it is Tesco.
In a statement Tesco said: “This particular research was carried out six years ago on a small number of people, and although it provided no direct link between specific products and hepatitis E we always take care to review research findings such as this.
“Food quality is really important to us and we have in place an expert team to ensure the highest possible standards at every stage of our supply chain, as well as providing clear information to customers on how to handle and cook pork in the home to minimise the risk of hepatitis E.”