A leading food safety expert has expressed concern over the risk of hepatitis E being present in pork products.
Sarah O'Neil, professor of infection epidemiology and zoonoses at the University of Liverpool, highlighted the growing number of hepatitis E cases reported in foods and believes that this could be the next battleground in foodborne diseases. During a speech at Leatherhead Food Research's food safety event in May she noted an increase in cases over the past year from relatively few to 600.
Food Manufacture reports that Ms O'Brien believes processed pork products have been the main route of hepatitis E cases. The majority of incidents reported in the UK linked back to strain seen in pigs and the expert has called for more awareness on the issue. She warned consumers that they should avoid "pink pork" as best they could.
Speaking to the news provider, Ms O'Brien said: "The virus [hepatitis E] may survive normal processing, studies have shown. But one of the challenges about it is that we have got more questions than answers at the moment."
While Ms O'Brien was aware of the risk that the condition could have if transmitted, she stressed that more research needs to be done. The expert explained that consumer safety should be at the forefront of the future studies and advice should be give on how to properly cook pork to ensure that it is free from bacteria and poses no threat to the person eating it.
Hepatitis E is very rare strain of the condition and is usually a mild and short-term infection, according to the NHS. It can be transmitted through the mouth and while person-to-person transmission is rare, there is the potential that it could be passed on by animals. Symptoms for the condition include fatigue, change in urine colour to dark or brown, jaundice, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.