Scientific Opinion on an update on the present knowledge on the occurrence and control of foodborne viruses
A review of the biology, epidemiology, diagnosis and public health importance of foodborne viruses was performed. Data needs to support a risk assessment were also identified. In addition possible control options and their anticipated impact to prevent or reduce the number of foodborne viral human infections were identified, including the scientific reasons for and against the establishment of food safety criteria and process hygiene criteria for viruses for certain food categories. Food may be contaminated by virus during all stages of the food supply chain, and transmission can occur by consumption of food contaminated during the production process (primary production, or during further processing), or contaminated by infected food handlers. Transmission of zoonotic viruses (e.g. HEV) can also occur by consumption of products of animal origin. Viruses do not multiply in foods, but may persist for extended periods of time as infectious particles in the environment, or in foods. At the EU-level it is unknown how much viral disease can be attributed to foodborne spread. The relative contribution of different sources (shellfish, fresh produce, food handler including asymptomatic shedders, food handling environment) to foodborne illness has not been determined. The Panel recommends focusing controls on preventive measures to avoid viral contamination rather than trying to remove/inactivate these viruses from food. Also, it is recommended to introduce a microbiological criteria for viruses in bivalve molluscs, unless they are labelled “to be cooked before consumption”. The criteria could be used by food business operators to validate their control options. Furthermore, it is recommended to refine the regulatory standards and monitoring approaches in order to improve public health protection. Introduction of virus microbiological criteria for classification of bivalve molluscs production areas should be considered. A virus monitoring programme for compliance with these criteria should be risk based according to the findings of a sanitary survey.