Knowledge Based Bio-Economy


Integrated monitoring and control of foodborne viruses in European food supply chains (Food Quality and Safety)

Project acronym: VITAL

Title of project: Integrated monitoring and control of foodborne viruses in European food supply chains

Research area: Food Quality and Safety

Contract No: 213178

EU contribution: €2 921 954

Start date: April 2008

Duration: 42 months

Status: finalised

The concept of VITAL was to improve the integrated risk assessment and management of contamination by pathogenic viruses in the European farm-to-market food chain. The VITAL consortium comprised expert practitioners in food analysis, quantitative viral risk assessment (QVRA), risk management, and consumer safety. Together, their vision was an integrated approach to the management of foodborne viruses in Europe.

VITAL developed new methods and adapted and modified existing ones to produce a portfolio of standard operating procedures. These procedures give guidance for the effective monitoring of four food-supply chains – salad vegetables, soft fruit, pork and shellfish. The first three were monitored in their production, processing and point of sale phases, while the shellfish supply chain was monitored only at the point of sale. The principal viruses monitored were the norovirus and the hepatitis A and E viruses. In addition, contaminants such as the human adenovirus, porcine adenovirus and bovine polyomavirus were monitored, as they would indicate a contamination route from humans or animals into the food supply chain.

Through VITAL’s monitoring, extensive data on virus prevalence was collected. This revealed vulnerability to virus contamination at several points in each of the four food-supply chains. Using this data for risk assessments showed that estimated health risks were significant in some cases (e.g., norovirus in shellfish and the hepatitis E virus in pork sausages). These higher risks were seen when consumption and dose-response (sensitivity to exposure) were considered in combination with data on virus concentrations in different sources and foods along the food production chains.

VITAL undertook a series of fact-finding missions to examine food-safety management practices in the supply chains and to gather data on virus contamination. The information acquired showed a key area of concern to be non-compliance with good safety management practices that could make food-supply chains vulnerable to virus contamination. Notably in the primary production of soft fruit and salad vegetables, analysis of areas of concern and virus contamination data revealed correlations between key non-compliances (poor quality irrigation water, poor sanitation, poor hand hygiene) and the contamination of produce.

In particular VITAL has determined that compliance with prerequisite programmes for food safety in manufacturing – such as the international Codex Guidelines – is essential to reduce the risk of virus contamination in food supply chains. VITAL Guidance Sheets were developed to complement the Codex guidelines, and assist compliance with prerequisite safety programmes.

VITAL has produced clear recommendations for manufacturers on how to regain control of contamination through compliance with prerequisite programmes and by deploying the monitoring procedures the project has outlined. Following VITAL’s work, the aim of integrated monitoring leading to improved control of foodborne viruses in food supply chains is possible.

Website of project:

Coordinator: Nigel Cook,;

Organisation: The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Represented by Food and Environment Research Agency,, and Veterinary Laboratories Agency,