U.S – Funded by the Center for Produce Safety (CPS), a researcher from the University of Georgia (UGA) is setting the stage for a momentous leap forward in food safety protocols, particularly in the detection of viruses in foods.

Dr. Malak Esseili is at the helm of this radical project, focusing on refining the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) existing methods for identifying human infectious viruses such as norovirus and hepatitis A on fresh produce.

The ultimate goal? To leverage cutting-edge cell culture technology for more accurate detection and quantification of infectious norovirus on berries, a staple in diets worldwide known for its vulnerability to viral contamination.

The challenge at hand is not trivial. Current FDA methodologies for virus detection face limitations due to the minuscule quantities of viruses typically present in foods, making recovery difficult. Moreover, the presence of virus genetic material does not necessarily indicate the virus’s infectivity, complicating risk assessments for the consumption of contaminated produce.

Dr. Esseili’s research aims to bridge this gap, employing a virus surrogate to refine the process of removing, recovering, and concentrating viruses from berry samples.

A particularly innovative aspect of the UGA team’s approach is the use of human stem cells to cultivate 3D cell cultures, or “human intestinal enteroids,” which mimic the human intestines’ functions. This method represents a frontier in food safety research, offering a novel avenue for detecting infectious norovirus and potentially transforming how foodborne viruses are identified and quantified.

The research process involves inoculating berries with known quantities of human norovirus and hepatitis A virus and then storing them at refrigerator temperatures to simulate postharvest conditions. By periodically sampling these berries and applying the optimized detection techniques, the team aims to gather valuable data on the persistence of infectious viruses during storage.

Dr. Esseili’s project not only holds promise for providing the food industry with improved tools for virus measurement but also for illuminating the risks associated with infectious norovirus on stored berries.

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