Ad Hoc Group on Foodborne Viral Infections meeting 21 March 2011

Summary of the second meeting of the Ad Hoc Group on Foodborne Viral Infections meeting.

1. Introduction
The group considered the following items at this meeting: the 1998 ACMSF report on foodborne viral infections: Government response and implemented recommendations, risk assessment framework (WHO foodborne viruses report and CODEX report on controlling viruses in food), the second study of infectious intestinal disease in the community, scope of the group’s report and the group’s work programme.

Members also received an update on the two EFSA mandates on foodborne viral infections.

2. ACMSF report on foodborne viral infections: Government response and implemented recommendations
A paper was presented that summarised the recommendations from the 1998 report, the government response and present situation with regard to the recommendations. It was reported that there were a number of gaps on how the recommendations had been implemented as some of the areas now fell outside of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) remit. Members considered the recommendations in relation to the publication of guides/advice. It was highlighted that although the FSA supported publication of advice on foods that may be a source of infection it could no longer do this through the Eatwell website that had been decommissioned. It was confirmed that the functions of Eatwell had been transferred to NHS Choices website as part of Government policy to place all consumer information on one site. The FSA was liaising with NHS Choices on how best to present guidance/advice related to food.

On the occurrence of foodborne viral infection in the UK, the 1998 report recommended that Government takes steps to improve harmonisation of detection, reporting and surveillance. Members commented that they were not aware of a national standard for investigation and discussed the issue of who takes the lead on outbreak investigations. It was underlined that it would be useful to have a link between Health Protection Units, Local Authorities and Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in dealing with norovirus outbreaks.

Recommendation 5.4 (in the 1998 report) recommended that there should be effective enforcement of Food Hygiene Regulations facilitated by guides to Good Hygiene Practice. Although Government welcomed the recommendation, it was pointed out there was no guidance for caterers. It was suggested that the FSA should encourage a good practice guide for industry and particularly for caterers. The FSA confirmed that there was general food hygiene guide and some guidance was being developed by industry. . The group raised whether the FSA had any plans to engage with the sewage industry bearing in mind the link between norovirus outbreaks and oysters. The FSA confirmed that it would be looking at ways of engaging with key stakeholders in the sewage industry in the formulation of its strategy for tackling norovirus and there was the possibility of undertaking research to address any identified data gaps.

3. Risk assessment framework (WHO foodborne viruses report and CODEX report on controlling viruses in food
Having considered the WHO foodborne viruses report and the CODEX report on controlling viruses in food circulated to the group before the meeting, members agreed to focus only on UK foodborne viral pathogens and agreed their risk assessment framework. Members agreed to focus on foodborne infections caused by norovirus and hepatitis E and there was no objection to the suggestion to follow the approach the WHO group on foodborne viral infection employed for their risk assessment with the addition of looking at the availability of control measures. Members decided that hepatitis A, rotavirus, aichi virus and sapovirus should not be prioritised in the pathogens the group will consider.

4. The Second study of Infectious Intestinal Disease (IID2) in the Community
Members considered a summary of the virus data from the IID2 study report as the full report has yet to be published. The IID2 study aimed to estimate the incidence and aetiology of infectious intestinal disease in the UK population. It involved seven separate but linked studies; including a prospective, community cohort study and prospective study of cases presenting to GPs, conducted between April 2008 and August 2009.

5. Scope of report
The group considered its draft terms of reference which were revised and finalised. It was decided that norovirus and hepatitis E should be the focus of the group’s report and the framework used for the WHO foodborne viruses report would be used for the risk assessment.

6. Work programme
Members discussed amendments to the work plan.