Research -Risk assessment of enteric viruses along the food chain and in the population



Food-borne microbial illness contributes up to one third of global disease burden. The largest category of food-borne illness is gastroenteritis, the majority of which is caused by enteric viruses. Viruses like these are transmitted to food either by waste-contaminated waters, or by handling and transfer during processing.

An important tool for reducing or controlling food-borne microbial risk is risk analysis. This framework has been adopted globally to manage risks associated with microbial contamination in food. Several hundred microbial risk assessments (MRAs) have been published by different national and international organisations, for different food-hazard combinations. The use of MRAs in controlling and understanding virus risk has, to date, been limited, compared with the efforts made on bacterial pathogens. Given the large disease burden that viruses are responsible for, this disparity should be addressed. 

The main reasons for the relative lack of risk assessments are the difficulty in detecting and monitoring viruses compared with bacteria. This means less data on prevalence, concentration and inactivation, and allows viruses to remain silent contributors to global disease. There are also key conceptual differences between virus risk assessment and bacterial risk assessment. This project aimed to assess the current state of the art for food-borne virus risk assessment, then to progress the field further by using the data available to produce risk rankings and risk assessments.

This was done by a combination of literature reviewing and various risk assessment tools. The result was an assessment of the overall evidence base in the literature, a semi-quantitative ranking comparison between the viruses and foods of most concern, and a survey of inactivation methods, leading to a quantitative ranking of the effectiveness of each in reducing and managing food-borne virus risk.

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