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Integrated Monitoring and Control of Foodborne Viruses in European Food Supply Chains

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A monitoring system to prevent virus contamination of food

Wishing to improve food safety in Europe, the VITAL consortium designed strategies and action plans for the application of good health and safety practices in the food supply chain. The ultimate goal was to prevent virological contamination of fresh food, thereby prohibiting the transmission of food-borne diseases.

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Food and feed chains are inherently prone to contamination at various phases from production to food consumption. Current epidemiological surveillance systems can only react to and provide information on disease outbreaks that occur through contamination of food. As a result, effective risk management strategies combined with prevention and intervention measures are urgently required to prohibit food contamination. The concept behind the EU-funded 'Integrated monitoring and control of foodborne viruses in European food supply chains' (VITAL) project involved providing risk assessment for and management of contamination by pathogenic viruses in the European farm-to-market food chain. In order to decrease the incidence and spread of food-borne viral diseases, certain precautionary measures should be taken during production, processing, trade and distribution of foods to prevent initial contamination. Through the development of new, or optimisation of existing, methods and standard operating procedures, VITAL partners aimed to monitor four food supply chains, namely salad vegetable, soft fruit, pork and shellfish. Monitoring was performed at the production, processing and point of sale phases, whilst the shellfish supply chain was monitored only at point of sale. The consortium monitored a number of viruses, including norovirus, hepatitis A virus, hepatitis E virus, human adenovirus, porcine adenovirus and bovine polyomavirus, in order to distinguish the human or zoonotic route of contamination of the food supply chain. The collected data revealed a significant vulnerability to virus contamination at several points in each food supply chain. Poor compliance with food safety guidelines (poor quality irrigation water, poor sanitation, poor hand hygiene) could lead to vulnerabilities in the food supply chains to virus contamination. In order to reduce the risk of contamination and assist with compliance to safety programmes, such as the Codex Guidelines, the consortium developed Guidance Sheets for intensive monitoring procedures. These are available on the project website . Partners also explored the impact of different environmental factors, namely temperature, turbidity and sunlight on survival of contaminant viruses. The efficacy of intervention measures, including chlorine disinfection and ultraviolet treatment, commonly used to inactivate pathogens in food industries was also studied. The proposed monitoring procedures offer the sensitivity needed for detecting food contamination and taking appropriate intervention measures. Long-term adoption of VITAL recommendations at the national or European levels would help prevent virus contamination in the food supply.

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