There were two reports published Wednesday on the status of viruses in the UK food chain. The first, a report by Food Standards Agency (FSA) Chief Scientific Advisor Guy Poppy, explores what viruses in food are, how they cause disease, how FSA is working with others to use science to understand them, and some of the challenges around reducing the risks. Two issues the report says the agency is working on are ways of detecting whether norovirus or Hepatitis E found in food is infectious and commissioning research on the heat stability of Hepatitis E due to uncertainty about how effective conventional cooking practices are in eliminating it from contaminated meat. Poppy’s report also stated that Hepatitis A infections in the UK are “rare with the number of reported cases in England and Wales falling over the past decade.” The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), an independent advisory committee which provides expert advice to FSA, also published an extensive review of viruses in the food chain. Some of the report’s findings included:
- In almost all incidents where a viral source is suspected, proper investigation is not performed.
- The proportion of norovirus transmitted by food is still uncertain.
- The burden of Hepatitis E transmitted by food, including pork and pork products, is still uncertain, although likely to be significant.
- Available evidence suggests that Hepatitis E is able to withstand the current minimum standard pasteurization process of 70 degrees Celsius for 2 minutes in pork products contaminated experimentally.
- Limited data suggest contamination of bivalves with Hepatitis E RNA and a possible link between Hepatitis E and shellfish consumption.
- The contribution of contaminated fruit and vegetables to foodborne norovirus and Hepatitis A is uncertain, but the impact at population level could be significant given the consumption levels.
- The public health relevance of asymptomatic carriage is not well understood.
- Authoritative information on risks associated with different foodstuffs and definitive cooking instructions is hard to find on government websites.
- There is a lack of clear and consistent advice on recommended food preparation and cooking advice to reduce risk.
The report made many recommendations for government departments, including the need for more research in certain areas and clearer advice for consumers. FSA stated that the government will “respond in due course when the recommendations have been considered in detail.” “It is fitting to have chosen foodborne viruses as the first subject, as it provides a background to the ACMSF’s important review and highlights the work the FSA is already doing to address this major issue,” Poppy said. “These two reports demonstrate how the science and evidence collected by the FSA and our collaborators informs our advice to the public and helps us to understand how we can better protect UK consumers.”