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A One-Year Survey of Norovirus in UK Oysters Collected at the Point of Sale

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Sarah O'Brien



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Contamination of bivalve shellfish, particularly oysters, with norovirus is recognised as a food safety risk and a potential contributor to the overall burden of gastroenteritis in the community. The United Kingdom (UK) has comprehensive national baseline data on the prevalence, levels, and seasonality of norovirus in oysters in production areas resulting from a previous two-year study (2009-2011). However, previously, data on final product as sold to the consumer have been lacking. As part of a wider project to establish the overall burden of foodborne norovirus in the UK, this study aimed to address this data gap. A one-year survey of oysters collected from the point-of-sale to the consumer was carried out from March 2015 to March 2016. A total of 630 samples, originating in five different European Union Member States, were collected from 21 regions across the UK using a randomised sampling plan, and tested for norovirus using a method compliant with ISO 15216-1, in addition to Escherichia coli as the statutory indicator of hygiene status. As in the previous production area study, norovirus RNA was detected in a high proportion of samples (68.7%), with a strong winter seasonality noted. Some statistically significant differences in prevalences and levels in oysters from different countries were noted, with samples originating in the Netherlands showing lower prevalences and levels than those from either the UK or Ireland. Overall, levels detected in positive samples were considerably lower than seen previously. Investigation of potential contributing factors to this pattern of results was carried out. Application of normalisation factors to the data from the two studies based on both the numbers of norovirus illness reports received by national surveillance systems, and the national average environmental temperatures during the two study periods resulted in a much closer agreement between the two data sets, with the notably different numbers of illness reports making the major contribution to the differences observed in norovirus levels in oysters. The large majority of samples (76.5%) contained no detectable E. coli; however, in a small number of samples (2.4%) levels above the statutory end product standard (230 MPN/100 g) were detected. This study both revealed the high prevalence of norovirus RNA in oysters directly available to the UK consumer, despite the high level of compliance with the existing E. coli-based health standards, while also highlighting the difficulty in comparing the results of surveys carried out in different time periods, due to variability in risk factors.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lowther JA, Gustar NE, Powell AL, O'Brien S, Lees DN

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Food and Environmental Virology

Year: 2018

Volume: 10

Issue: 3

Pages: 278–287

Print publication date: 01/09/2018

Online publication date: 02/05/2018

Acceptance date: 27/01/2018

Date deposited: 13/08/2019

ISSN (electronic): 1867-0342

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s12560-018-9338-4

PubMed id: 29722006


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