Less than two weeks after imported frozen berries were confirmed as the source of a vomiting bug which killed three pensioners and made more than seventy people fall ill, one of Sweden's largest supermarket chains has told The Local it has seen an increase in sales of similar products.
Asked if fewer people were buying the sweet fruits since the scare, Communications Chief Kristofer Myrevik said: “If anything our sales have improved. I can't give you the figure for competitive reasons but frozen raspberries is [sic] a big product for us. And it's growing.”
Frozen berries are safe to eat as long as they are boiled before they are eaten, which should kill any viruses they are carrying. It has been confirmed that imported Serbian berries used in the deadly dessert that caused the sickness outbreak in Ljungby in southen Sweden earlier this month were not cooked properly.
Co-op says it clearly labels all its relevant products with the Swedish Food Agency's recommendation (Livsmedelsverket) that consumers should boil cold raspberries.
The news of rising frozen berry sales in the Nordic nation comes as other EU countries are reconsidering their own safety guidelines in the wake of the Swedish scare.
On Thursday the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) issued a fresh warning to consumers, asking them to boil all imported frozen berries for at least one minute.
The authority said it had no evidence that infected fruits had reached its shores, but noted that it had become increasingly concerned following the recent deaths in Sweden and an outbreak of the Hepatitus A in Australia earlier this year, which was also linked to frozen berries.
Dr Lisa O’Connor, Chief Specialist in Food Science told Irish radio station Newstalk: “there remains an ongoing risk in the global imported frozen berry supply chain.”
Some campaigners are pushing for Sweden to adopt an even tougher stance and follow in the footsteps of neighbouring Denmark, which introduced a law in 2012 requiring all kitchen staff to boil frozen berries before serving them.
Jan Bernhardsson, Chief Technology Officer at Ljungby municipality where the latest Swedish scare took place, told Sveriges Radio that he backed the idea of stronger guidelines to make sure more food outlets prepared the fruits safely.
“I absolutely think so, considering the consequences this can bring, it should be a lot stricter,” he said.
Co-op's rival Swedish supermarket chain Hemköp said on Friday that it did not import raspberries from the same supplier as the care home in Ljungby and said that it had not notice a change in sales figures for frozen products.
But it added that it was looking into adapt its labelling system to help make consumers even more aware of the risks.
“Of course we take this seriously,” said Claes Salomonsson, Head of Press for Axfood, which owns Hemköp.
“We test our products thoroughly. And we're considering labelling our frozen berries more clearly. Because you should boil them before consuming them.”
One of the nation's other major supermarket chains, Ica, told The Local that it had already decided to change its labelling to include a recommendation to boil the berries.
“But it will take a while before the new packages will be out in store because they are frozen goods with long expiry dates,” said press officer Ulrika Borg.
She added that Ica had registered a “slight dip” in sales figures since the raspberry story broke, but added that “the time period is too short to know if this is a trend or just a temporary decrease in sales”.