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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Jul;78(14):4976-83. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00402-12. Epub 2012 Apr 27.

Temperature-dependent survival of hepatitis A virus during storage of contaminated onions.

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  • 1U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Division of Food Processing Science and Technology, Institute for Food Safety and Health, Bedford Park, IL, USA.


Pre- or postharvest contamination of green onions by hepatitis A virus (HAV) has been linked to large numbers of food-borne illnesses. Understanding HAV survival in onions would assist in projecting the risk of the disease associated with their consumption. This study defined HAV inactivation rates in contaminated green onions contained in air-permeable, moisture-retaining high-density polyethylene packages that were stored at 3, 10, 14, 20, 21, 22, and 23°C. A protocol was established to recover HAV from whole green onions, with 31% as the average recovery by infectivity assay. Viruses in eluates were primarily analyzed by a 6-well plaque assay on FRhK-4 cells. Eight storage trials, including two trials at 3°C, were conducted, with 3 to 7 onion samples per sampling and 4 to 7 samplings per trial. Linear regression correlation (r(2) = 0.80 to 0.98) was observed between HAV survival and storage time for each of the 8 trials, held at specific temperatures. Increases in the storage temperature resulted in greater HAV inactivation rates, e.g., a reduction of 0.033 log PFU/day at 3.4 ± 0.3°C versus 0.185 log PFU/day at 23.4 ± 0.7°C. Thus, decimal reduction time (D) values of 30, 14, 11, and 5 days, respectively, were obtained for HAV in onions stored at 3, 10, 14, and 23°C. Further regression analysis determined that 1 degree Celsius increase would increase inactivation of HAV by 0.007 log PFU/day in onions (r(2) = 0.97). The data suggest that natural degradation of HAV in contaminated fresh produce is minimal and that a preventive strategy is critical to produce safety. The results are useful in predicting the risks associated with HAV contamination in fresh produce.

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