Screening of Fruit Products for Norovirus and the Difficulty of Interpreting Positive PCR Results

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Despite recent norovirus (NoV) outbreaks related to consumption of fruit products, little is known regarding the NoV load on these foods. Therefore, 75 fruit products were screened for NoV presence by using an evaluated in-house NoV detection methodology consisting of a NoV extraction method and a reverse transcription quantitative PCR assay. Additionally, the fruit samples were screened for bacterial pathogens and bacterial hygiene indicators. Results of the NoV screening showed that 18 of 75 samples tested positive for GI and/or GII NoV despite a good bacteriological quality. The recovery of murine norovirus 1 virus particles acting as process control was successful in 31 of 75 samples with a mean recovery efficiency of 11.32% ± 6.08%. The level of detected NoV genomic copies ranged between 2.5 and 5.0 log per 10 g. NoV GI and/or GII were found in 4 of 10, 7 of 30, 6 of 20, and 1 of 15 of the tested raspberries, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and fruit salad samples, respectively. However, confirmation of the positive quantitative PCR results by sequencing genotyping regions in the NoV genome was not possible. Due to the nature of the method used (reverse transcription quantitative PCR) for detection of genomic material, no differentiation was possible between infectious and noninfectious viral particles. No NoV outbreaks related to the tested fruit product types were reported during the screening period, which hampers a conclusion as to whether these unexpected high numbers of NoV-positive results should be perceived as a public health threat. These results, however, may indicate a prior NoV contamination of the tested food samples throughout the fresh produce chain.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Laboratory of Food Microbiology and Food Preservation, Department of Food Safety and Food Quality, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. 2: Laboratory of Food Microbiology and Food Preservation, Department of Food Safety and Food Quality, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium 3: Technology and Food Science Unit, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, Flemish Government, Brusselsesteenweg 370, 9090 Melle, Belgium

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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