Research project Detection and risk assessment of hepatitis E in foodstuffs
Development of methods for detection of infectious hepatitis E in pork meat products and optimization of processing practices to reduce infectivity
Main research question
Which food products have the highest risk for transfer of hepatitis E virus (HEV) to the consumer? Can methods be developed to assess the infectivity of HEV? What is the effect of current meat processing practices on the infectivity of HEV in high-risk pork meat products? Currently there is a lack of methods that allow to identify HEV contaminated food products and that determine the risk for public health. This project will contribute to the development of such methods. In addition, the effect of meat processing practices on HEV infectivity will be tested to define conditions of food preparation that eliminate HEV infectivity.
A first work package concerns the prioritization of pork products based on their risk for HEV in a Belgian context. A literature study and information from the Belgian meat industry provide the necessary data. A second work package establishes reliable alternative methods to detect infectious HEV in high risk food products to detect HEV contamination. We evaluate these products for their potential to determine infectivity by comparison with an appropriate in vitro cell culture system. In a third work package, the effect of meat processing techniques on HEV infectivity will be tested to define food preparation conditions that eliminate HEV infectivity.
This project will result in alternative molecular methods for detection of infectious HEV in food products. These will allow competent authorities to control the risk of HEV for the consumer. Results will also be communicated via scientific publications, via advice to competent authorities and via reports with reference to relevant websites. In addition, results will be spread to stakeholders engaged with the issue of hepatitis E and to scientific committees evaluating the risk of hepatitis E in the food chain.