Foodborne viruses present a major challenge to the safety of a range of foods including ready–to–eat products, fresh produce and pork products. While viruses cannot grow in or on foods, they can be carried by them.
The foodstuffs mainly at risk from contamination with Norovirus and Hepatitis A are those which are lightly processed and those which are eaten raw or ready to eat foods – for example salad, vegetables, soft berry fruits, and raw shellfish. Hepatitis E may be found in undercooked or minimally processed pork meat products.
Contamination with foodborne viruses could potentially occur anywhere along the supply chain, but, what about the environment? Norovirus and Hepatitis A can be easily spread by people who have been infected with the virus. Aside from food becoming contaminated, potentially any surface which is touched by someone who has the infection and who may not have washed their hands thoroughly could become contaminated. This contamination could spread to food surfaces, or to others who touch the same surfaces and ingest the virus. In the modern production, processing and retail environments many surfaces could be prone to contamination including food processing surfaces and touch screen technology which is now widely used.
Obviously, prevention is better than control, but no system is perfect. The monitoring of water, food handlers’ hands, the working environment and at-risk foods for viruses is important to understand where problems may be occurring, while controlling the risk by including viruses as hazards in food safety management plans is essential.
Roy Betts is Head of Microbiology at Campden BRI which offers practical scientific, technical, regulatory and information support to the food and drink industry. At Lab Innovations 2019 he will present on the leading cause of infectious intestinal disease in the UK: Norovirus. He will give attendees an insight to the under-studied pathogen at the UK’s only event dedicated to the laboratory industry.