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Key priorities established for research on foodborne viruses

How we tackle norovirus, hepatitis A and E viruses was the focus of a joint FSA/EFSA workshop that published its summary report recently (20 October 2016). The report identifies cross-cutting research themes, building on the first report of the FSA's Chief Scientific Advisor which highlighted that foodborne viruses have a significant impact on public health.

New research is now needed to measure the infectivity of norovirus and hepatitis A and E viruses – particularly in foods, the report concludes – and how the presence of norovirus in food relates to the public health risk is one of the top research priorities for scientists.

Assessing the public health impact

The workshop, held at the Royal Society in London in February, brought together academics, virologist, clinicians, veterinarians, food industry specialists and regulators to consider public health impact from these viruses and the feasibility of research to deliver benefits as the main criteria when deciding on the top research priorities.

Dr Paul Cook, FSA Head of Microbiological Risk Assessment, said: “Addressing these research areas identified by the experts at the workshop would make an important contribution to assessing as well as managing risk posed by these viruses in foodstuffs.

“This is a particular challenge for norovirus, which cannot be cultured in the laboratory despite many efforts to do so; hepatitis E virus has also proved difficult to culture.”  

Shortlisting the research priorities

The five main research priorities identified at the workshop were:

  1. The development and validation of direct and indirect methods for assessment of hepatitis E virus infectivity;
  2. Establishing how the detection of norovirus in foodstuffs relates to public health risks;
  3. Development of methods to evaluate norovirus and hepatitis A infectivity from food samples;
  4. Development of standard methods and ISO methods for detection of hepatitis E virus in meat and meat products;
  5. Establishing the burden of hepatitis E virus infections in humans in Europe.

Paul added: “We need to move beyond just identifying if a virus is present to measuring how much virus is there and whether it is infectious. This will help better understand the risks as well as the controls that are needed to protect consumers.”

“Moving forward with further research in these areas we will enable us to better understand and control the contribution that norovirus, hepatitis A and E viruses make to the burden of foodborne disease in Europe.”

Read the full EFSA report - Joint Scientific Workshop on Foodborne Viruses


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