Norovirus: The EU perspective

Foodborne viruses are the second most common cause of foodborne outbreaks in the European Union (EU) after Salmonella. This is based on the number of verified outbreaks reported to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA has published two Scientific Opinions on foodborne viruses since 2011 and made a number of recommendations on the need to gather data and on potential control options.

The EFSA Biohazards Panel published its Scientific Opinion viruses in the food chain in July 2011. this was an update on the present knowledge on the occurrence and control of foodborne viruses.

In response to an approach from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), EFSA was also asked to provide a specific Scientific Opinion on norovirus in shellfish, taking into account current detection methods and control options. A second EFSA opinion, called the Scientific Opinion on Norovirus (NoV) in oysters: methods, limits and control options, was published in January 2012.

EFSA has identified that removal of viral contamination is extremely difficult. It therefore recommends that the focus on control of viruses in the food chain needs to be based on preventing contamination and cross-contamination of food. Other key recommendations include the possible introduction of microbiological criteria for norovirus in shellfish and for classification of shellfish harvesting areas to consider viruses.

EFSA has also highlighted the need for more data. This includes a baseline survey to establish the prevalence of norovirus in oysters across Europe and to further investigate the infectious dose in food.
A Working Group of member states with a particular interest in shellfish has been established. Member states are currently carrying out further discussions on the recommendations from these opinions and potential risk management options.

The Scientific Opinions can be found via the 'External sites' links.

Regulation (EC) No 669/2009: strawberries from China

In September 2012, a large outbreak of norovirus affecting approximately 11,000 people was reported in Germany. This outbreak was associated with a large consignment of frozen strawberries imported from China. As a result of this outbreak, a revision was made to Regulation (EC) No 669/2009, which sets out specifications for an increased level of official controls on imports of certain feed and food of non-animal origin, to include frozen strawberries from China.

The Regulation, amended by the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1235/2012, requires that 5% imports from China are sampled and tested for presence of norovirus and Hepatitis A viruses. More details can be found via the ‘External site’ links.