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Int J Food Microbiol. 2011 Dec 15;151(3):261-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2011.09.013. Epub 2011 Sep 17.

Review: norovirus prevalence in Belgian, Canadian and French fresh produce: a threat to human health?

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1
Ghent University, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Department of Food Safety and Food Quality, Laboratory of Food Microbiology and Food Preservation, Coupure Links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. leenbaert@yahoo.com

Abstract

Foodborne viruses, especially noroviruses (NoV), are increasingly reported as the cause of foodborne outbreaks. NoV outbreaks have been reported linked to fresh soft red fruits and leafy greens. Belgium, Canada and France were the first countries to provide data about the prevalence of NoV on fresh produce. In total, 867 samples of leafy greens, 180 samples of fresh soft red fruits and 57 samples of other types of fresh produce (tomatoes, cucumber and fruit salads) were analyzed. Firstly, the NoV detection methodology, including virus and RNA extraction, real-time RT-PCR and quality controls were compared among the three countries. In addition, confirmation and genotyping of the NoV strains was attempted for a subset of NoV positive samples using conventional RT-PCR targeting an alternative region followed by sequencing. Analysis of the process control showed that 653, 179 and 18 samples of the leafy greens, soft red fruits and other fresh produce types were valid for analysis based on the recovery of the process control. NoV was detected by real-time RT-PCR in 28.2% (N=641), 33.3% (N=6) and 50% (N=6) of leafy greens tested in Canada, Belgium and France, respectively. Soft red fruits were found positive by real-time RT-PCR in 34.5% (N=29) and 6.7% (N=150) of the samples tested in Belgium and France, respectively. 55.5% (N=18) of the other fresh produce types, analyzed in Belgium, were found NoV positive by real-time RT-PCR. Conventional RT-PCR resulted in an amplicon of the expected size in 19.5% (52/266) of the NoV positive samples where this assay was attempted. Subsequent sequencing was only successful in 34.6% (18/52) of the suspected amplicons obtained by conventional RT-PCR. From this study, using the described methodology, NoV genomes were frequently detected in fresh produce however sequence confirmation was not successful for the majority of the samples tested. Infection or outbreaks were rarely or not known to be related to the NoV positive samples. With the increase in sensitivity of the detection methodology, there is an increasing concern about the interpretation of positive NoV results by real-time amplification. Strategies to confirm the results by real-time RT-PCR should be developed in analogy with the detection of microbial pathogens in foods. Detection might indicate contact with NoV in the fresh produce chain. Consequently, a potential risk for infection cannot be excluded but the actual risk from RT-PCR NoV positive produce is still unknown. Studies should be designed determining the probability of infection related to the presence or levels of NoV genomic copies.

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