Outbreaks of gastroenteritis that are suspected to be of viral origin are on the rise. Thus, there is a need for regulatory agencies entrusted with food safety to develop adequate techniques for the detection of viruses in foods. We have established a general procedure for the detection of hepatitis A virus (HAV) in shellfish that, with minor modifications, is also applicable to fresh produce such as cilantro. Total RNA was isolated from shellfish or cilantro, followed by isolation of poly(A)-containing RNA. Because HAV genomic RNA contains a poly(A) tail, the isolation of poly(A)-containing RNA also enriches HAV genomic RNA. Reverse transcription was used to convert the RNA to cDNA, and then amplification was carried out by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Reamplification with internal primers was used to improve the quality and the quantity of amplified DNA, allowing for post-PCR analysis such as sequence identification of the viral strain. With this procedure, multiple samples could be analyzed in four working days by a single trained individual. The nominal sensitivity of detection of the procedure was 0.15 TCID50 (50% tissue culture infective dose) per 0.62 g of tissue with a test virus. The direct RNA isolation protocol avoided pitfalls associated with whole-virus purification procedures by replacing virus precipitation steps involving polyethylene glycol and Procipitate with phenol extraction. The method is straightforward and reliable. We successfully used this procedure to detect naturally occurring HAV in clams involved in a gastroenteritis outbreak, as well as in cilantro artificially contaminated with a test virus.

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