Human noroviruses (HuNoV) are the leading cause of foodborne disease, and poor personal hygiene practices of infected workers are the most common mode of contamination. The purpose of this study was to characterize the persistence and transferability of representative noroviruses Norwalk virus (NV), Snow Mountain virus (SMV), and murine norovirus 1 (MNV-1) on and between solid surfaces and foods. Changes in virus concentration on artificially inoculated solid surfaces (stainless steel, ceramic, and Formica) or lettuce were monitored over a period of 14 to 42 days. Virus transfer was evaluated from donor (solid surface) to recipient (food, e.g., lettuce and sliced turkey deli meat) for up to 2 h postinoculation. Viruses were recovered by elution and titered with reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) and/or infectivity assay, as appropriate. Based on RT-qPCR, the concentration of NV and SMV on surfaces dropped gradually over time, with an average reduction of 1.5 to 2.0 and 1.8 to 2.3 log, respectively, after 42 days, with no statistically significant differences by surface. When inoculated onto lettuce stored for 2 weeks at 4°C and room temperature, the titers of NV and SMV dropped by approximately 1.0 and 1.2 to 1.8 log, respectively. Comparatively, the RT-qPCR signal associated with purified HuNoV RNA placed on the same surfaces was more rapidly lost to degradation. Transfer efficiency ranged from 0 to 26% for lettuce and from 55 to 95% for sliced turkey deli meat, with statistically significant differences (P ≤ 0.05) in transferability as a function of contact pressure (100 and 1,000 g/9 cm2) and inoculum drying time. When similar experiments were done with MNV-1, infectious virus failed to be detected on solid surfaces after storage day 21, although the virus did persist on lettuce. This study provides much needed quantitative data for use in risk assessment efforts intended to characterize the transmission of HuNoV during food preparation and handling.
† Present address: Biology Department, Burch Lab, 238 Wilson Hall, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.