Food-borne viruses are the second most important cause of food-borne outbreaks in the European Union (EU) after Salmonella. EFSA has published a review of the latest scientific knowledge on these viruses providing advice on possible measures to control and prevent their spread in the EU.
In 2009, they were responsible for 19% of all outbreaks in the EU causing over 1000 outbreaks and affecting more than 8700 citizens. The total number of outbreaks caused by viruses has been increasing since 2007. EFSA’s scientific opinion looked at norovirus and hepatitis A viruses in fresh produce, ready-to-eat foods and bivalve molluscs such as oysters, mussels, and scallops, as these are ranked as priority hazards by the World Health Organisation. The hepatitis E virus was also assessed in the opinion as it is highly prevalent in pigs across Europe, and there is some evidence of transmission through food, although human clinical cases are rare in the EU.
According to EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) effective measures to control the spread of these viruses should focus on preventing contamination at all levels of production rather than on trying to remove or inactivate these viruses from contaminated food. Thorough cooking is currently the only efficient measure to remove or inactivate norovirus or hepatitis A virus from contaminated bivalve molluscs or fresh produce. Meat or liver should also be completely cooked to ensure that possible hepatitis E infections are removed or inactivated.
To prevent hepatitis E infections, the BIOHAZ Panel also recommends that people with liver diseases or immune deficiencies and pregnant women should be discouraged from eating under-cooked meat and liver from wild boar and pork.
EFSA/ European Union.