Encouragement by public health authorities to adopt a healthy lifestyle has led to increased consumer demand for fresh produce. A wide variety of fresh produce is now available throughout the year in developed countries. However, vegetables and fruits, particularly berries, are increasingly associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness in several parts of the world despite the perception that these infections are usually related to products of animal origin. Produce consumed fresh or after minimal processing is a potential vehicle for enteric pathogen transmission. Some enteric viruses, such as Norovirus (NoVs) and hepatitis A virus (HAV), are responsible for a large proportion of food-borne illness cases. Foods contaminated at source or by infected food handlers are often implicated as key transmission routes for Norovirus.
Increasing incidents of foodborne illnesses and stringent food safety and preservation laws drive the food safety testing market here in the UK with relevant legislation EC 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs being enforced by the Food Standards Agency and local health authorities in the UK. However lack of food control infrastructure and resources in developing countries combined with a lack of a regulatory drivers means virus testing is becoming more and more routine in order to cope with the ever growing global food supply chain.
Take the rapidly growing ready-to-eat market where consumers are more reliant upon the manufacturers, (who are typically producers of complex foods with multi-ingredient involving a range of different processes) - of these meals to adhere to best practices when it comes to hygiene, as they often don't wash meals at home before consuming and no home cooking step is involved that could eliminate harmful microorganisms.
Testing for viruses in food is complex, as we are looking for entities the size of a 30 millionth of a millimetre, which may be present in low numbers, in food samples of several grams. The real challenge lies in extracting the viruses from the food, but Fera has nearly 20 years' experience in development and application of virus extraction methods. After extraction, we use RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology to amplify and detect characteristic nucleic acid sequences of the virus' genome so that detection of contaminating viruses can be performed with exquisite precision. Thus, we are able to identify food contamination with viruses before food reaches the market, and reduce the chance of problems occurring after the foodstuff is sold. Take the latest outbreak, May 2016 where more than 400 people in Denmark have been sickened by Norovirus in lettuce from France*. The cause points to towards contaminated Lollo Bionda lettuce which may have been sold to caterers and restaurants through the wholesale merchant in Denmark. A real life incident where fresh produce has been contaminated with a virus, in this case Norovirus, which has reached the consumer. In terms of brand protection in makes sense to have routine virus testing as part of your risk management strategy.
*Data supplied by HorizonScan - online food safety database - free trial available now
Consultancy - if you have questions about our virus testing service, or the regulatory environment, sometimes it requires another experienced person or team to help pull things together and move them ahead. Fera's consultancy service is made up of senior scientists who have broad and deep experience in the food industry that we can bring to bear on your research project which goes beyond analysis and scientific expertise.
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Public trust has declined in the wake of recent product contaminations and recalls. High-profile recalls of flour, salad leaves and others may prompt consumers to question the safety of the food they are buying.
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Our teams often work in other commercial industry partners to bring new ideas and innovation to the forefront and our latest white paper considers the 'Safety Assessment of Food Contact Materials' and describes the issues of chemicals migrating into food from packaging materials, the need to assess the safety of those chemicals that migrate, and the role that high-resolution mass spectrometry has to play in the related analysis.
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