Detecting and Preventing Viral Contamination of Food
Undetected food contamination
Foodborne viral infections often go undetected and differ from bacterial infections in that, once present in food, viruses will neither alter the taste nor the aspect of the particular product. Food poisoning cases such as the contamination of dried tomatoes in France 2010, semi-dried tomatoes in Australia and the Netherlands in 2009 and 2010 respectively, usually implicate norovirus (NoV) or hepatitis A virus (HAV.) 19 member states of the EU reported a total of 697 outbreaks of the Norovirus in 2008. For those outbreaks that were verified, noroviruses were the most frequent cause, followed by HAV.
Enteric viruses can be very infectious. Norovirus inoculums, which cause the “stomach flu”, vomiting and diarrhoea, can infect an individual with levels as low as ten viral particles. They can survive for long periods in food and water and are generally more resistant to chemical and UV disinfection, filtration and pasteurization than microorganisms.
Food may be contaminated by viruses during all stages of the food supply chain, and transmission can occur by consumption of food contaminated during the production process or contaminated by infected food handlers. Removal of viruses by ultrafiltration membranes or inactivation by prolonged heating or optimal UV treatment is possible; however these viruses survive reasonably well in adverse conditions. Therefore, the EFSA panel (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/panels/contam.htm) recommends focusing controls on preventive measures rather than trying to remove or inactivate viruses from food.
Regulatory officials, in order to combat the dangers associated with foodborne viruses, are pursuing various possible measures.
• The EFSA published a report in 2011 on “scientific opinion regarding an update of the present knowledge on the occurrence and control of foodborne viruses”.
• This year, an expert working group created by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), is expected to publish a standard method for the detection of norovirus and hepatitis A virus in food.
• The CODEX Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) is also working on a guideline which is now ready for final adoption.
• European Commission Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2005:338:0001:01:EN:HTML) of 15 November 2005 indicates that “Foodstuffs should not contain micro-organisms or their toxins or metabolites in quantities that present an unacceptable risk for human health”, underlining that methods are required for foodborne virus detection.
Measure viral risks
Foodborne viruses constitute a real concern to the safety of food. SGS has implemented analytical methods based on the expected standard method from CEN and offers microbiological testing services (http://www.sgs.com/en/Agriculture-Food/Food/Primary-Production/Testing-and-Analytical-Services/Microbiological-Tests.aspx) to food companies which can help to measure viral risks and integrate foodborne virus testing in their analytical surveillance plans.
SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 70,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,350 offices and laboratories around the world.
SGS Consumer Testing Services
Ron Wacker, PhD
Global Business Development Manager Food Testing
t: +49 6039 4696540
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