Tag Archives: norovirus

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Food Safety Culture Club

Norovirus Season Is Here: Foodservice Actions To Help Prevent Outbreaks

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Cases of norovirus are reaching new highs, necessitating a review of preventive measures for retail food establishments. After experiencing a lull during the first two years of the pandemic, norovirus cases came surging back in the first quarter of 2022, with outbreaks peaking at over 100 per week in late February, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[1] Last week, the CDC updated its NoroSTAT page showing a similar increase happening over the past four weeks.

“It’s not a coincidence that U.S. norovirus cases dropped to historic lows in 2020 and 2021, then came surging back as Americans began dropping their pandemic precautions this past spring,” said Chip Manuel, Ph.D., Food Safety Science Advisor, GOJO Industries. “People are fatigued by social distancing, isolation and masking, but it is important to remember that everyday practices like hand and surface hygiene help to control norovirus and many other infectious diseases.”

Food establishments can protect their customers from outbreaks by taking the following steps:

  • Keep sick employees home. 70% of norovirus outbreaks are caused by infected foodservice workers,[2]so preventing employees from coming to work sick with norovirus is an important step in preventing outbreaks in foodservice establishments.[3] Adopting sick leave policies and employee wellness screens will reduce the risk of a facility causing a foodborne illness outbreak. Employees that come to work sick can spread the virus to foods, surfaces, customers, and other employees.
  • Practice frequent proper hand hygiene and minimize bare-hand contact with food. Inadequate hand hygiene and bare-hand contact with foods are the most frequently encountered contributing factors to norovirus outbreaks.[4]Ensure bare-hand contact with foods is minimized by emphasizing proper glove use. More frequent handwashing, providing handwash stations, and providing alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available, are all best practices related to hand hygiene.
  • Disinfect high-touch surfaces regularly. Establishments should continue to disinfect high-touch surfaces since they have a direct carryover to controlling foodborne illnesses, especially norovirus. Examples include frequent disinfection of restroom door handles, handwash sink faucet handles, and restroom stall latches.
  • Clean before you sanitize. Proper surface sanitizing requires the surface to be cleaned first to remove all food debris, fats, oils, and other soils. The U.S. Food Code requires that all food-contact surfaces must be cleaned before the sanitizing step.[5]This ensures that the sanitizer solution will remain effective, as these soils can interfere with the sanitizer’s effectiveness.
  • Ditch the “rag and bucket” practice. Using a red bucket of sanitizing solution and a reusable cloth is a common way to sanitize tables in a restaurant. But research shows that reusable cloths can easily become breeding grounds for foodborne disease-causing bacteria.[6]They can then spread pathogens to other surfaces throughout the establishment. Sanitizer solution must be monitored throughout the day so it maintains a required concentration level and be changed out when the solution appears dirty, plus the cloths must be stored in the solution, laundered daily, and not used for multiple tasks. Switching to applying a food-contact sanitizer by spray bottle or a disposable wipe can reduce some of the risks associated with reusable cloths.
  • Use effective surface products with low toxicity that work quickly. Using ready-to-use products with short contact times (e.g., a minute or less for organisms of interest) can increase compliance with enhanced disinfection protocols, which help reduce the risk of an outbreak within a facility. These products also save your staff valuable time. The EPA categorizes products from I (highly toxic) to IV (very low toxicity.) If possible, select products rated as category IV to limit your staff and guests’ exposure to harsh fumes. When using higher toxicity products follow all “Cautions” noted on the product labeling, as these products may require handwashing after use and/or personal protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns, and eye protection during use.

“In 2022, the U.S. saw the largest number of norovirus outbreaks in more than 10 years, even though the 2021-2022 norovirus season peaked late (late February vs. early January),” said Hal King, Ph.D., Managing Partner, Active Food Safety and Founder/CEO, Public Health Innovations. “In 2023, we can expect even more norovirus infections will be circulating in our communities, and many of these infected persons will likely be workers and customers entering restaurants. The best means to reduce the risk of transmission of norovirus in restaurants is to continue to screen employees for wellness (with a focus on all foodborne disease signs and symptoms), continue disinfection of high-touch surfaces in the restaurant (especially the restroom areas), and ensure proper hand hygiene and glove use before, during, and after food preparation.”



[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Reporting and Surveillance for Norovirus: NoroSTAT.” https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/reporting/norostat/index.html Accessed Dec. 12, 2022.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Preventing Norovirus Outbreaks.” https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/norovirus/index.html Accessed Nov. 22, 2022.

[3] Duret, S., et al. Quantitative risk assessment of norovirus transmission in food establishments: evaluating the impact of intervention strategies and food employee behavior on the risk associated with norovirus in foods. Risk Analysis, 37(11), 2080-2106, 2017.

[4] Brown, L. G., et al. Outbreak characteristics associated with identification of contributing factors to foodborne illness outbreaks. Epidemiology and infection, 145(11), 2254–2262, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0950268817001406

[5] U.S. Food & Drug Administration, “Food Code 2017.” https://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/retailfoodprotection/foodcode/ucm595139.htm Accessed Nov. 22, 2022.

[6] Scott, E. and Bloomfield, S. 1990. Investigations of the effectiveness of detergent washing, drying and chemical disinfection on contamination of cleaning cloths. J. Appl. Bacteriol. 68: 279-283.


Hand washing

Norovirus: Handwashing and Exclusion of Ill Employees Most Effective Mitigation Measures

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Hand washing

FDA has completed a research study entitled, Evaluation of the Impact of Compliance with Mitigation Strategies and Frequency of Restaurants Surface Cleaning and Sanitizing on Control of Norovirus Transmission from Ill Food Employees Using and Existing Quantitative Risk Assessment Model,” which focused on identifying strategies to reduce the risk of norovirus (NoV) from consumption of foods prepared in food establishments.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Food Protection, evaluated more than 60 scenarios examining the impact of implementation of and compliance with recommendations contained in the FDA Food Code.

The objectives of the risk assessment were to:

  • Evaluate the dynamics of norovirus transmission from ill or infected food employees to ready-to-eat food and consumers.
  • Evaluate the impact of prevention strategies and their level of compliance on the prevalence of contaminated food servings and the number resulting infected consumers.
  • Provide a basis for evaluation of potential changes regarding Employee Health for the 2017 FDA Food Code.

The study found that:

  • Compliance with Food Code exclusion of ill food employees and hand hygiene rules had the most impact on consumer illnesses.
  • Washing hands before donning and changing gloves efficiently reduces NoV transfer.
  • Restriction of food employees needs additional provisions to be effective.
  • Eliminating hand-contact from restroom surfaces and prioritizing cleaning and sanitizing of restroom surfaces in restaurants helps to control the transmission of norovirus to food and consumers.
  • Surface cleaning and sanitizing has the least impact on consumer illnesses.


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Retail Food Safety Forum

Combating Norovirus in Restaurants: Proper Sanitizer and the Wiping Step Matter

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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A comparative study of four commercially available sanitizers found that an ethanol-based product was significantly more effective in destroying human norovirus (hNoV), and all products tested benefited from a wiping step to physically as well as chemically remove traces of the virus.

The purpose of the study, which was published in Food Microbiology (August 25, 2022), was to assess the anti-hNoV efficacy of various surface sanitizers when applied to a laminate material commonly used for restaurant tabletops.

Researchers from North Carolina State University, in partnership with GOJO, evaluated four products with different active ingredients (ethanol [EtOH], acid + anionic surfactant [AAS], quaternary ammonium compound [QAC] and sodium hypochlorite [NaOCl]) and a water control against two human norovirus strains—hNoV GII.4 Sydney and hNoV GI.6—and the cultivable surrogate Tulane virus (TuV). They used identical spray bottles and a robotic arm to wipe the surfaces to ensure consistency in methods between products.

“We had two major research questions. First, what is the efficacy of sanitizers commonly used by the retail food industry against human norovirus? Second, what is the relative importance of including a wiping step during the sanitizing process?” said Lee-Ann Jaykus, Ph.D., William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Food Microbiology at North Carolina State University and co-author of the study. “We found that on Formica, only one of the four products tested was able to provide any significant activity against human norovirus; the other three products inactivated only a negligible amount of virus.”

The researchers used controlled antiviral surface assays to assess the relative anti-hNoV efficacy of the sanitizers, and outcomes were compared following 30- and 60-second contact times without wiping and 30- and 60-second contact times with wiping.

Following a 30-second contact time with the EtOH-based product, log10 reductions of 3.6 ± 0.7, 4.1 ± 0.5 and 3.4 ± 0.2 were observed for GII.4, GI.6 and TuV, respectively. Treatment with all other products resulted in statistically significantly lower reductions in viral titer.

Following 60-second contact time with the EtOH-based product log10 reductions of 4.0 ± 0.5, 4.3 ± 0.6 and 6.3 ± 0.5 were observed for GII.4, GI.6 and TuV, respectively. The other formulated or diluted products produced ≤0.5 log10 reductions.

The addition of the wiping step provided greater log10 reductions in virus concentration for all products tested against all viruses.

“The addition of a wiping step to the sanitation process provided removal of 95% to 99.9% of the virus on the surface,” said Dr. Jaykus.

When comparing performance among the three viruses, “The performance against all three viruses was nearly identical for each of the four products,” said Dr. Jaykus. “In other words, if Product A inactivated 50% of one human norovirus strain, it also inactivated around 50% of the other human norovirus strain and the Tulane virus. This tells us that Tulane virus might be a better surrogate than the viruses currently used as proxies for human norovirus upon which to base label claims.”

When the paper towels were processed for residual virus five minutes after wiping, no evidence of residual virus could be detected on the used paper towels with the EtOH-based product treatments. For the NaOCl-based product, no detectable virus was present on spent paper towels used in wiping studies for GII.4 hNoVs, and relatively low concentrations of virus were recovered from paper towels for GI.6 and TuV. For the AAS-based product, the concentrations of virus recovered from the paper towels were approximately 2.3, 1.3 and 1.4 log10 lower than that of the untreated control for GII.4, GI.6 and TuV, respectively. For the QAC-based product and water, the concentration of virus recovered from the paper towels was similar to that of the initial dried inoculum, suggesting low (if any) virus inactivation by the product.

“One of the most interesting findings was that the quaternary ammonium-based compound (QAC) did not show any real anti-noroviral activity against the virus strains tested. This is important because the vast majority of the restaurant and retail sector in the U.S. routinely uses QAC-based products to sanitize tables in dining areas,” said Dr. Jaykus. “Further, we were able to recover infectious virus from paper towels used to wipe contaminated surfaces, which suggests that if the sanitizer does not kill the virus, towels used in wiping could spread viruses if reused on another surface.”

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FDA Announces Two Virtual Events for Food Safety Professionals

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Registration is now open for the 2022 FDA Retail Food Protection Seminar. Registration for the September 19-22, 2022, event is free and open to all professionals interested in retail food safety, including all state, local, territorial and tribal regulators, standardized officers, industry and academia.

The event provides an opportunity for the FDA and state, local, tribal and territorial regulators to discuss current and emerging issues related to retail food safety. This year’s seminar will have a focus on norovirus, including assessing employee health, investigating norovirus related foodborne illnesses and implementing successful employee health intervention strategies.

A Risk Factor Study Workshop, planned for Thursday, September 22, 2022, will focus on how to design and conduct a Risk Factor Study and cover requirements for Standard 9 of the Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards. The aim of the workshop is to help participants understand different study designs as well as the FDA’s data collection approach, and get an overview on how to conduct a data collection. There will also be a demonstration on the use of FDA’s Risk Factor Study Database.

Attendees can register here.

On August 11 at 1:00 pm ET, the FDA is hosting a webinar to discuss the biennial food facility registration renewal period, the requirement for facilities to have a unique facility identifier (UFI) and general information and guidance on how to register with the FDA.

U.S. and foreign human and animal food facilities that are required to register with FDA must renew their registration this year between October 1 and December 31, 2022.

Nicole Shokatz and Robert Spear from the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Office of Compliance, will lead the webinar and answer questions submitted during registration.

The agenda includes:

  1. Who needs to register or renew
  2. How to obtain a UFI
  3. How and where to register
  4. The benefits of registering
  5. Questions and Answers

Registration is open until August 10.


FDA Is Focusing on Safety of Frozen Berries

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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On July 22, the FDA announced that it is developing a food safety prevention strategy to enhance the safety of fresh and frozen berries. The move comes in response to multiple hepatitis A (HAV) and norovirus (NoV) outbreaks linked to the consumption of both fresh and frozen berries.

The FDA reports that there have been four HAV outbreaks and three NoV outbreaks linked to frozen berries from 1990 to 2016 in the U.S., and since 2011, there have been three HAV outbreaks linked to fresh berries, including a current outbreak linked to fresh organic strawberries.

In addition, from 1983 to 2018, there were 50 outbreaks globally that were attributed to frozen berries: 36 caused by NoV and 14 by HAV. The FDA noted that although freezing preserves berries it generally does not inactivate viruses that may be introduced at various points in the supply chain, such as by infected workers, contaminated water or contaminated food contact surfaces. In addition, fresh berries are generally eaten raw without a kill-step that could eliminate pathogens.

In August, the FDA plans to resume an assignment to collect and test frozen berries that it paused at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The assignment seeks to estimate the prevalence of HAV and NoV in frozen strawberries, raspberries and blackberries and help the FDA identify sites where practices or conditions may exist that constitute safety vulnerabilities.

The FDA also plans to work collaboratively with industry, academia and regulatory partners in the development of a food safety prevention strategy to identify measures that can be taken to limit or prevent contamination from occurring throughout the berry supply chain, approaches to re-enforce control measures and their application as well as areas where additional research is needed.


Nicole Lang, igus
Retail Food Safety Forum

Robots Serve Up Safety in Restaurants

By Nicole Lang
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Nicole Lang, igus

Perhaps the top takeaway from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is that people the world over realize how easily viruses can spread. Even with social distancing, masks and zealous, frequent handwashing, everyone has learned contagions can cycle through the atmosphere and put a person at risk of serious, and sometimes deadly, health complications. In reality, there are no safe spaces when proper protocols are not followed.

The primary culprit in transmission of norovirus, according to the CDC, is contaminated food. “The virus can easily contaminate food because it is very tiny and spreads easily,” the CDC says in a fact sheet for food workers posted on its website. “It only takes a very small amount of virus to make someone sick.”

The CDC numbers are alarming. The agency reports about 20 million people get sick from norovirus each year, most from close contact with infected people or by eating contaminated food. Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, and infected food workers cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food.

The solution to reducing the transmission of unhealthy particles could be starting to take shape through automation. While robots have been used for the past few years in food manufacturing and processing, new solutions take food handling to a new level. Robots are no longer in the back of the house in the food industry, isolated in packaging and manufacturing plants. They are now front and center. The next time you see a salad prepared for you at a favorite haunt, you may be watching a robot.

“The global pandemic has altered the way that we eat,” said Justin Rooney, of Dexai Robotics, a company that developed a food service robotic device. Reducing human contact with food via hands-free ordering and autonomous food serving capabilities has the potential to reduce the spread of pathogens and viruses, and could help keep food fresh for a longer period of time.

Painful Pandemic

Increased use of automation in the foodservice industry might be one of the salvations of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an industry searching for good news, that might be the silver lining in an otherwise gloomful crisis.

Job losses in the restaurant industry have been brutal. By the end of November, nearly 110,000 restaurants in the United States had closed. A report by the National Restaurant Association said restaurants lost three times more jobs than any other industry since the beginning of the pandemic. In December, reports said nearly 17% of U.S. restaurants had closed. Some restaurants clung to life by offering outdoor dining, but as winter set in, that option evaporated. Some governors even demanded restaurant closures as the pandemic escalated in late fall.

Restaurants have faced a chronic labor shortage for years. Despite layoffs during the pandemic, many former foodservice employees are electing to leave the industry.

Teenagers, for instance, and some older workers are staying away for health and safety reasons. Some former workers are also finding out that they can make more money on unemployment benefits than by returning to work. Restaurant chains have hiked wages, but filling positions still remains a challenge.

Automated Solutions

Restaurants began dancing with the idea of robots nearly 50 years ago. The trend started slowly, with customers ordering food directly through kiosks. As of 2011, McDonald’s installed nearly 7,000 touchscreen kiosks to handle cashiering responsibilities at restaurants throughout Europe.

As technology has advanced, so has the presence of robots in restaurants. In 2019 Seattle-based Picnic unveiled a robot that can prepare 300 pizzas in an hour. In January, Nala Robotics announced it would open the world’s first “intelligent” restaurant. The robotic kitchen can create dishes from any cuisine in the world. The kitchen, which is expected to open in April in Naperville, Illinois, will have the capability to create an endless variety of cuisine without potential contamination from human contact.

Dexai designed a new robotic unit that allows for hands-free ordering that can be placed through any device with an Internet connection. The robot also includes a new subsystem for utensils, which are stored in a food bin to keep them temperature controlled. This ensures that robot is compliant with ServSafe regulations. The company is working on improving robot system’s reliability, robustness, safety and user friendliness. The robot has two areas to hold tools, a kitchen display system, bowl passing arm, an enclosure for electronics and two refrigeration units. It has the unique ability to swap utensils to comply with food service standards and prevent contamination as a result of allergens, for example.

Why Automation

Many industries have been impacted by advancements in automation, and the foodservice industry is no different. While initially expensive, the benefits over time can provide to be worth the investment.

One of the most significant advantages, particularly important in the post-COVID era, is better quality control. Automated units can detect issues much earlier in the supply chain, and address those issues.

Automation can also help improve worker safety by executing some of the more repetitive and dangerous tasks. Robots can also boost efficiency (i.e., a robot used for making pizza that can press out dough five times faster than humans and place them into ovens) and eliminate the risk of injury. Robots are also being used to make coffee, manage orders and billing, and prepare the food. Robots can also collect data that will help foodservice owners regarding output, quantity, speed and other factors.

“Alfred’s actions are powered by artificial intelligence,” according to Rooney. “Each time Alfred performs an action, the associated data gets fed into a machine learning model. Consequently, each individual Alfred learns from the accumulated success and failures of every other Alfred that has existed.” Dexai plans to teach the robot to operate other commonly found pieces of kitchen equipment such as grills, fryers, espresso machines, ice cream cabinets and smoothie makers.

Unrelenting Trend

Automated solutions might have come along too late to save many restaurants, but the path forward is clear. While they are not yet everywhere, robots are now in play at significant number of restaurants, and there is no turning back. Any way you slice it, robots in restaurants, clearly, is an idea whose time has come.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food Fraud With Nasty Results

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis

Global food supply chains are complex and therefore quite vulnerable to errors or fraudulent activity. A company in Chile repackaged and falsely labeled cheap raspberries from China, reselling them as top-level organic Chilean raspberries in Canada. These raspberries were linked to a norovirus outbreak in Canada, sickening hundreds of people. A whistleblower complaint helped to uncover this fraudulent scheme that posed a significant risk to human health.

Raspberry, Decernis
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne.


  1. Sherwood, D. (October 6, 2020). “How a Chilean raspberry scam made its way into Canada leading to a norovirus outbreak”. Reuters.

Q3 Hazard Beat: Seafood

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in seafood from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. Over the past and next few weeks, Food Safety Tech is providing readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report.

hazards, seafood, HorizonScan
2019 Data from HorizonScan by FeraScience, Ltd.

View last week’s hazards in herbs and spices.

Manik Suri, CEO and co-founder, CoInspect
Retail Food Safety Forum

Rodent Poop, the Olympics and Food Safety Inspections that Work

By Manik Suri
Manik Suri, CEO and co-founder, CoInspect

Another day, another potentially brand damaging story—just ask Little Caesars. On February 7, the health department closed down an Indianapolis-based location because customers found some rodent feces on their pizza—it was clearly a food safety violation, and pretty disgusting. Meanwhile on the other side of the planet, athletes prepared their entire lives to compete in the Olympics. More than 100 people contracted Norovirus around the Olympic sites in Pyeongchang, where the athletes were in danger of getting a violent, contagious stomach illness that would derail their dreams and prohibit them from competing.

We live in a world that eats out, and if we don’t develop new techniques to protect customers in restaurants and food service settings, more people are going to get sick (or worse) from foodborne illnesses. The current food safety process is broken, and needs to be fixed in restaurants nationwide and globally.

At Google, Larry Page has spent two decades managing the speed of a search result for the company’s core service. From 1997 forward, Page has obsessed about the right results as fast as possible. When has Google ever been slow? People use the search engine daily because it always works.

For restaurants to grow and thrive, they need habit formation from fickle consumers. Habits are formed when restaurants deliver on their value proposition slice after slice, burger after burger, and salad after salad. So what is your organization doing to make sure that every meal is extraordinary— not only delicious, but also safe? What are you doing to prevent Norovirus and other foodborne illnesses?

Well, you’re probably not studying the data to create better processes. A 2017 survey of the top 500 restaurant chains found that 85% use paper logs or spreadsheets as their core technology for safety, quality and standards management. Paper logs, line check clipboards or homemade Excel sheets on a laptop are inefficient and ineffective systems to manage something as critical as food safety.

Many restaurants have upgraded their mobile ordering software and relaunched their menus on LED screens, but still make employees use clipboards to conduct food safety line checks and QA audits. This devalues the importance of their food safety operating protocols. Restaurant teams are comprised mostly of millennials and Generation Z— the mobile generations. They expect to be trained, do work and solve problems with their phones. But when their employers train with paper manuals and complete work with paper forms, it’s a huge disconnect for them.

Moreover, how did people at Little Caesars HQ in Detroit have insight into that recent incident in their Indianapolis store? What operating data do they have to examine? What line checks happened in store on the day in question? When was their last third-party food safety audit? What corrective actions were taken? That information would be hard for them to know, if, like the vast majority of restaurant chains, they were not collecting and analyzing data with modern tools.

Upgrading your operating technology so that your people have digital tools is not expensive. Software is much more affordable today because of the software-as-a-service revolution and the extraordinary computing power and proliferation of mobile devices. An emerging ecosystem of safety and software companies is ready to take your facilities into the 21st century. But the C-Suite has to decide it wants to empower its employees to do their best work and commit to having real-time data that is actionable and accurate.

Having mobile ordering software and LED screens for menus is helpful and valuable. But food safety is the most important component of every restaurant (and other food service companies). It is imperative that the food service industry embraces digital solutions to elevate their food safety standards. Without proper food safety standards, any organization could face a crisis like Little Caesars and the Olympics recently experienced. All it takes is one tainted meal to harm your guests—and your brand.

Bionano Laboratory

Biosensor Detects Norovirus on the Spot, in One Hour

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Bionano Laboratory

Norovirus has returned to the headlines following the latest outbreak at the PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea. Researchers at Bionano Laboratory in Guelph, Canada are trying to prevent such outbreaks with the development of a nanotechnology-based biosensor that can identify foodborne viruses at the point of care.

“Our nanotech biosensor boasts of a microfluidic platform duly integrated with graphene-gold nano-composite aptasensor that has shown to help with one-step norovirus detection. We have been able to detection the norovirus with in an hour with superior sensitivity with our state-of-the art device.” – Suresh Neethirajan, Bionano Lab

Designed for use in the field, the paper-based microfluidic device has a screen-printed carbon electrode that enables electrochemical virus detection within an hour. Its chip is packed with silica microbeads zones to filter and enrich a Norovirus-infected sample. The researchers also state that the biosensor is designed to be simple and cost effective. They have published two papers demonstrating the effectiveness of the device, one in Microchimica Acta (Apramer-based fluorometric determination of norovirus using paper-based microfluidic device) and the other in Biosensors and Bioelectronics.