Food safety considerations nH1N1 influenza virus


food, influenza, H1N1, swine, pork, turkey, animal by-products, transmission risk
First published in the EFSA Journal
9 June 2010
27 May 2010

A new Influenza A virus in humans was notified to World Health Organisation by Mexico in April 2009. The pandemic virus contained a novel combination of genes from pig, avian and human influenza viruses. In view of public concern with respect to the safety of animal origin foods, the BIOHAZ Panel have addressed the questions: (1) state-of-knowledge on the tissue distribution and shedding of the novel H1N1 (nH1N1) influenza virus in pigs, and its possible foodborne transfer to humans; (2) aspects of the nH1N1 virus survival characteristics in foods, as well as hurdles which it must overcome in order to infect humans, in particular the alimentary tract barriers that may inactivate the virus after consumption of possibly contaminated products; and (3) identification of gaps in scientific knowledge. Pigs are fully susceptible to the nH1N1 virus. No contact infections have been reported from swine to humans. The infection in swine is respiratory with no virus dissemination to muscles or edible organs. Low-level virus contamination of meat by respiratory secretions from infected pigs may be possible at slaughter or processing. If ingested with food, the virus has to overcome several hurdles such as acidic pH in the stomach and bile salts in the duodenum, which reduce the infectivity. As oropharyngeal tissues are known ports of entry for mammalian influenza viruses, food that passes such tissues, if contaminated with nH1N1 virus, could hypothetically transmit a respiratory infection to humans. Presently, there is no epidemiological evidence that this theoretical possibility has contributed to the spread of this infection. Normal cooking procedures inactivate the virus in food. Commercially available disinfectants used for cleaning of equipment after contact with meat products rapidly destroy influenza viruses. The panel concluded that food contaminated with nH1N1 influenza viruses does not appear to be a vehicle for infection in humans.

Panel members at the time of adoption
Olivier Andreoletti, Herbert Budka, Sava Buncic, John D Collins, John Griffin, Tine Hald, Arie Hendric Havelaar, James Hope, Günter Klein, James McLauchlin, Winy Messens, Christine Müller-Graf, Christophe, Nguyen-The, Birgit Noerrung, Luisa Peixe, Miguel Prieto Maradona, Antonia Ricci, John Sofos, John Threlfall, Ivar Vågsholm, Emmanuel Vanopdenbosch.
Panel on Biological Hazards
biohaz [at]
EFSA Journal 2010; 8(6):1629 [43 pp.].
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