Researchers are looking beyond bacteria to another lesser known, but major, cause of food related illness outbreaks. Gary Crawford has more.
It’s estimated that in this country every year, 48 million of us will get sick from some sort of illness related to food. Normally we think of these as being caused by bacteria, but actually…
‘All food poisoning in the US is attributed to noroviruses,’ says food safety expert from Clemson University Angela Frasier. Norovirus is a type of virus that causes inflammation of the stomach and large intestine used to be called the Norwalk virus named for the city in Ohio where the first case was discovered in 1972. The virus can be spread easily by touch, in the air and in food.
‘Sick people who are handling food or working in a restaurant or harvesting products are typically the source of viruses.’ Symptoms can be deadly and look like what you would see with bacterial contamination.
‘Most cases are self limiting, meaning you get really ill for 24-48 hours then feel normal. Becoming dehydrated is a serious problem that can come out of this and cause hospitalization.’
We have rules about killing or controlling bacterial contamination in foods like cooking to the right temperature, keeping cold foods cold, but Frasier says:
‘How you prevent and control viruses is different than bacteria.’
With bacteria, thorough cooking kills it, however,
‘Viruses may or may not be destroyed by cooking. We don’t have any evidence right now to say yes or no. I am part of a collaborative whose aim is to study how to reduce the burden of illness due to norovirus. Its led by NC State and the money comes from USDA.’