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Human Norovirus Transfer to Stainless Steel and Small Fruits during Handling

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Human noroviruses (NoVs) cause an estimated 58% of foodborne illnesses in the United States annually. The majority of these outbreaks are due to contamination by food handlers. The objective of this study was to quantify the transfer rate and degree of contamination that occurs on small fruits (blueberries, grapes, and raspberries) and food contact surfaces (stainless steel) when manipulated with NoV-contaminated hands. Human NoVs (genogroups I and II [GI and GII]) and murine norovirus (MNV-1) were inoculated individually or as a three-virus cocktail onto donor surfaces (gloved fingertips or stainless steel) and either immediately interfaced with one or more recipient surfaces (fruit, gloves, or stainless steel) or allowed to dry before contact. Viruses on recipient surfaces were quantified by real-time quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR. Transfer rates were 58 to 60% for GII NoV from fingertips to stainless steel, blueberries, and grapes and 4% for raspberries under wet conditions. Dry transfer occurred at a much lower rate (<1%) for all recipient surfaces. Transfer rates ranged from 20 to 70% from fingertips to stainless steel or fruits for the GI, GII, and MNV-1 virus cocktail under wet conditions and from 4 to 12% for all viruses under dry transfer conditions. Fomite transfer (from stainless steel to fingertip and then to fruit) was lower for all viruses, ranging from 1 to 50% for wet transfer and 2 to 11% for dry transfer. Viruses transferred at higher rates under wet conditions than under dry conditions. The inoculum matrix affected the rate of virus transfer, but the majority of experiments resulted in no difference in the transfer rates for the three viruses. While transfer rates were often low, the amount of virus transferred to recipient surfaces often exceeded 4- or 5-log genomic copy numbers, indicating a potential food safety hazard. Quantitative data such as these are needed to model scenarios of produce contamination by food handling and devise appropriate interventions to manage risk.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Center for Food Safety, University of Georgia, Griffin, Georgia 30223, USA 2: Center for Food Safety, University of Georgia, Griffin, Georgia 30223, USA., Email:

Publication date: August 1, 2012

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