Contamination of bivalve molluscs with viruses is well recognized as a food safety risk. A microbiological criterion for norovirus (NoV) and hepatitis A virus (HAV) in shellfish, however, does not exist in the European Union currently. The aim of this study was to evaluate the contamination levels of these viruses for fluctuation over a long period (2013–2017) in oyster (n = 266) and mussel samples (n = 490) using a method based on ISO/TS 15216-1: 2013. Samples were taken at different points in the food chain, either directly post-harvest, at Dutch dispatch centers or in retail stores, from September until March of each year. Altogether, 53.1% of the mussel and 31.6% of the oyster samples tested positive for NoV RNA. Simultaneous presence of NoV GI and GII RNA was observed in 31.6% of mussel and 10.2% of oyster samples. Contamination levels in NoV positive mussel samples collected post-harvest from B-areas were significantly higher than in those collected post-harvest from A-areas, or at dispatch centers or retail stores. Levels in oysters from dispatch were significantly lower than those collected in retail stores. Ready for sale mussels and oysters contained 2.04 and 1.76 mean log10 transformed NoV genome copies/gram (gc/g), respectively. GII levels were at a constant level in ready for sale mussels throughout all sampling periods in the study. This seemed to be true for oysters as well. HAV RNA was detected in only one of the tested mussel samples (n = 392) (typed HAV 1A) and in none of the tested oyster samples (n = 228). Critical evaluation of NoV and HAV levels in shellfish can be of help for risk assessment and risk management actions.
- Food safety
- Viral contamination