International focus on virus testing in foods

The AOAC Annual Meeting and the International Stakeholder Panel on Alternative Methods (ISPAM) Meeting held in Florida, USA from 6-10 September 2014 were attended by Neil Shepherd, NATA’s Sector Manager for Life Sciences. 

Of particular note at the ISPAM meeting was the discussion around food borne viruses. Illness associated with virus contamination contributes to a significant proportion of the total outbreaks of food poisoning. 

In general, testing for food borne viruses is not addressed by regulation in the same way as bacteriological, mycological and chemical adulteration. Regulations covering the safety of food for consumption such as the US Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) do not specify viruses specifically but there is a general requirement that food sold should not cause harm to those consuming it which can be taken to include the absence of viral contamination.  Australian regulations are similar in approach. 

ISPAM proposes to review the current status of virus testing at the mid-year AOAC meeting in Washington from 16-20 March 2015.  This will include a review of available methodology and presentations on testing for food borne viruses and legislation in the US, Canada and Europe.  This initiative was suggested from a European representative based on an increased focus on food borne viruses in Europe.  

The ISPAM consideration of food borne viruses comes on the back of the NMI Food Sector Advisory Committee meeting in July 2014 at which it was indicated that a surveillance program for virus contamination would be beneficial to Australia but a lack of testing capacity hinders such a development. 

A move internationally to increase the focus on virus testing will presumably impact on Australia if requirements are introduced to require exported food to be free of viral contamination.