Hepatitis A within the Food Industry

By Food Focus on 27 July 2021

There is much said about Hepatitis B and C, but World Hepatitis Day (28 July) presents a good opportunity to remember that Hepatitis A within the food industry also presents a risk, and as shown in the foodborne outbreaks listed below, is still a very real occurrence across the globe.

Hepatitis A Outbreaks Linked to Food Premises: 2019-2021 

Note, this list is not conclusive, it is just representative of the prevalence of outbreaks

Hepatitis A virus identified in a food handler in Hamilton (2021)

ADPH: Hepatitis A identified at Montgomery Applebee’s (2021)

Hepatitis A outbreak associated with consumption of dates, England and Wales (2021)

Imported frozen berries suspected in hepatitis A outbreak (2020)

Bakery link investigated in hepatitis A outbreak in Germany (2020)

Hepatitis A increase in Chinese province linked to seafood (Jul 2020)

National epidemic of hepatitis A outbreaks puts restaurant customers at risk (2019)

Blackberries link in three state Hepatitis A Outbreak (2019)

While Salmonella, Listeria and E.Coli are common bacterial causes of foodborne illnesses, Hepatitis A is one of the top viral causes of foodborne illness.  

The food industry has an obligation to prepare for this risk, and ensure we are mitigating it as much as possible.


What is Hepatitis A

There are 5 human hepatitis viruses (hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E) that primarily infect the liver and cause illness.

Hepatitis A is a contagious disease that spreads from person-to-person through faecal-oral contact, via contaminated food or water or through direct contact with an infectious person.


Food contaminated with the virus is a common vehicle for the transmission of Hepatitis A.

The food handler is most often responsible for contaminating the food, although he or she is generally not ill at the time of food preparation because the infectious stage of the disease occurs during the two weeks before illness begins.

Hepatitis A Symptoms

The incubation period of hepatitis A is usually 14–28 days.  Many children and most adults will experience the sudden onset of flu-like symptoms – not the typical symptoms we would associate with food “poisoning”. After a day or two of muscle aches, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, fever and overall weakness, jaundice sets in. When jaundice sets in, the initial symptoms begin to subside.

In general, the illness lasts from 10 days to three weeks. Relapse is possible, and although more common in children, it does also occur in adults.  In some cases, it can take months for people to be fit enough to resume normal life, and the impact on businesses from loss of productivity can be considerable.


Hepatitis diagnosis and treatment

There are blood tests widely available to accurately diagnose hepatitis A. There is no specific treatment other than treating the general symptoms being experienced, avoiding alcohol, and ensuring sufficient hydration.  Bed rest is also recommended.


Hepatitis A prevention

Hepatitis A vaccine is the best protection from hepatitis A infection and food handlers should be vaccinated. 


Other key practices that can help prevent infection are:

  • excluding sick food-handlers from work

  • enforcing proper handwashing practices

  • cooking foods to a core temperature of 85 degrees (as this inactivates the virus)

Hepatitis A: some helpful resources