The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) today issued a call for proposals to design and execute a research study to identify and evaluate possible enhancements to norovirus removal from live oysters during shellfish depuration. A purification process used commercially and regulated by the FSA, depuration involves placing shellfish in tanks of clean re-circulating seawater, treating them with UV irradiation, and allowing to purge their contaminants over several days.

FSA officials noted that although norovirus contamination can be an issue for a range of foods, norovirus in oysters can present a particular risk to consumer safety as oysters are generally consumed as a raw product, so the virus is not destroyed before consumption by heat processes such as cooking.

The FSA wants to commission work to quantify and optimize the effectiveness of standard UK depuration practices in reducing norovirus in oysters and to explore the potential for novel approaches to improve the effectiveness of this process. The agency said its foodborne viruses’ research program aims to gather data to provide a robust base of science and evidence to inform development of a risk management program for foodborne viruses, with a particular focus on norovirus.

The study should include reviews of relevant available evidence (published and unpublished) as the starting point for a fully justified laboratory-based project that will improve the controls that can be applied to current UK depuration practices, to reduce the levels of norovirus in oysters sold for public consumption.

Applications should be submitted online, using the FSA's electronic procurement system (ePPS), by 5 p.m. (GMT) on Thursday, May 8, 2014.

Those wishing to learn more about this call for tenders will need to register as a supplier on the FSA’s electronic tendering system, ePPS.