Norovirus in berries tops risk ranking model

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Ninacoca/Flickr
Picture: Ninacoca/Flickr

Related tags National food institute Fruit

Norovirus in berries presents the highest food/pathogen risk from fresh fruit and vegetables in Denmark, according to researchers.

The risk ranking was performed by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark (DTU) for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA).

Other risks were Salmonella, Norovirus and E. coli in lettuce and berries, lettuce, sprouts, tomatoes and melons were found to be at the top of the ranking.

The National Food Institute evaluated the risk from microorganisms in ready-to-eat fresh fruit and vegetables on the Danish market.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already identified Norovirus in frozen raspberries and strawberries as an emerging public health risk​.

Risk calculation

Risk was calculated based on how often the microorganisms in the specific products, the dosage needed to cause disease, how severe a disease it causes, the average number of cases per year and how much of the specific product is eaten.

Louise Boysen, researcher at the National Food Institute, told FoodQualityNews the findings were not surprising but it was a good exercise to confirm what was suspected.

“The reason for the risk assessment was consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables has increased in the last 20 years by 30% which is good but adverse effects with the number of Danish people getting ill from different microorganisms has increased to.

“We have learnt people need to be aware when eating fruit and vegetables to handle according to the recommendations. Wash it to reduce risk of pathogens and boil frozen raspberries before they go into a smoothie or a cake for example.”

Consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables has increased by 30% from 1995-2013 in the country.

Salmonella and leafy greens eaten raw was the top pathogen/food combination in a separate risk assessment model ranking revealed recently​.

Researchers looked at what was most often linked to human cases originating from foods of non-animal origin (FoNAO) in the EU.

Global trade issue

Due to the increased global trade there is a risk that disease-causing microorganisms, which were rarely or never found in Denmark, are being introduced onto the market through imported goods.

Boysen said the ranking results could help the DVFA decide on resources.

“It is important for the administration to prioritise the money wisely towards intervention, it is a decision for them and we are not involved in that, but the rankings show priority areas.”   

The authorities can use the results to evaluate the effect of control measures and changing consumption patterns as well as to prioritise initiatives to strengthen food safety.

A list of 30 different combinations of products and microorganisms has been created which pose the greatest risk of disease to Danish consumers.

Fresh fruit and vegetables can contain disease-causing microorganisms if they have been watered or washed with contaminated water, or they have been harvested or handled by people with inadequate hand hygiene, said DTU. 

It added that consumers can minimise the risk by washing produce thoroughly and follow any instructions related to heat treatment.

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