The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) recently published two studies on the challenges that viral contamination pose to food safety, from a global perspective. The first study reviews how food and waterborne viruses contribute to foodborne illnesses, while the second study analyzes and compares hygiene and sanitization methods used to combat viral contaminants, with an emphasis on severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS CoV-2).

According to IFT, food and waterborne viruses are especially problematic in food production due to their small size, structure, and ability to clump and attach to inanimate surfaces, which make the viruses difficult to eliminate. The viruses are, therefore, major contributors to foodborne illness. While food and waterborne viruses such as human norovirus, hepatitis A virus, hepatitis E virus, rotaviruses, astroviruses, adenoviruses, and enteroviruses were already a cause for concern, the emergence of SARS CoV-2, which is airborne, heightened the need for diligence in, and complicated approaches to, food hygiene and sanitation. 

IFT highlights a variety of disinfection methods, both traditional and novel, including:

  • Chemicals
  • Heat
  • Nonthermal decontamination techniques (e.g., irradiation, ultraviolet, pulsed light, high hydrostatic pressure, cold atmospheric plasma, and pulsed electric field)
  • Virucidal surfaces
  • Bioactive compounds.

The virucidal effectiveness of different sanitization techniques varies based on each virus’ structure, genomic organization, and molecular biology. Selection of suitable decontamination approaches, which is dependent on the mechanism of action, the ability to reduce virus infectivity, and treatment parameters, is crucial to controlling foodborne viruses in a food production environment. To exclude the transmission of foodborne and waterborne viruses while simultaneously ensuring the elimination of SARS CoV-2, thorough sanitization and hygiene practices must occur in all stages of the food chain: production plants, distribution sites, storage sites, retail stores, and others.