The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released plans as part of their surveillance sampling program to focus on Hepatitis A Virus and Norovirus detection in frozen berries. This eighteen-month surveillance sampling program was initiated in November of 2018. 

As part of the surveillance program, FDA is reviewing and sampling product for contamination of Hepatitis A and Norovirus. As a result, on June 7th, FDA sent out a public health alert regarding Hepatitis A findings in frozen berries. 

Hepatitis A is a virus of concern in the food industry, however, cases of illness are much less (around 2,000) attributed to the availability of a vaccine against this virus.  Whereas, Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne illness in the United States, accounting for 58% of foodborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus causes between 19-21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis yearly, contributing to an estimated 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths each year. 

Both viruses are highly transmissible via the fecal-oral route and are associated with outbreaks in a wide variety of foods such as leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables, and shellfish. These foods are often eaten after limited or no processing, which can contribute to the persistence of viral particles.  

Viruses are commonly spread by food handlers or by person-to-person contact, but can also be spread through environmental contamination. For example, contaminated water is used to wash raw food or contaminated water where shellfish are harvested. As a result, it is difficult to identify the source of contamination in most outbreaks.  

Inactivation of viruses in foods is difficult and sanitizers like chlorine, chlorine dioxide, organic acids and ozonated wash that are commonly used for bacteria do not necessarily reduce viral contamination. Foodborne illnesses resulting from viruses are common, however, testing for viruses in food is not common. 

Virus testing can aid in compliance of food safety plans to verify the preventive controls are working as expected. Prevention is key to reducing viral contamination as it is easier to focus on preventative measures than to remove or inactivate viruses if they are present. 

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) of handwashing, employee hygiene, and wash room availability are key activities in prevention. Reviewing these key practices routinely with employees can help support your food safety plans.  

Mérieux NutriSciences’ Food Science Center’s virus detection laboratory in Crete, IL, is one of a small number of labs in the United States dedicated to virus detection. Routine methods for culturing Norovirus and Hepatitis A Virus do not exist, so molecular biology-based methods are used for detection. Norovirus (genogroups GI and GII), and Hepatitis A can be detected using Real-Time PCR following the ISO Method in water, shellfish, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and swabs.

In addition to routine testing, Mérieux NutriSciences has a suite of consulting services that can aid in the development of robust food safety plans including establishing preventative controls, employee practices, training, routine water testing and more.

Are you in need of virus testing or consulting services for your produce and/or other food products?

Contact us now to get more information on how we can help!

Want more information about Virus? Check out our previous blog discussing 4 Reasons to test for Foodborne Viruses.

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