Swabs as a tool for monitoring the presence of norovirus on environmental surfaces in the food industry

Maria Rönnqvist (Corresponding Author), Marjaana Rättö, Pirkko Tuominen, Satu Salo, Leena Maunula

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Human norovirus (HuNoV), which causes gastroenteritis, can be transmitted to food and food contact surfaces via viruscontaminated hands. To investigate this transmission in food processing environments, we developed a swabbing protocol for environmental samples, evaluated the stability of HuNoV in the swabs, and applied the method in the food industry. Swabs made of polyester, flocked nylon, cotton wool, and microfiber were moistened in either phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) or glycine buffer (pH 9.5) and used to swab four surfaces (latex, plastic, stainless steel, and cucumber) inoculated with HuNoV. HuNoV was
eluted with either PBS or glycine buffer and detected with quantitative reverse transcription PCR. HuNoV recoveries were generally higher with an inoculation dose of 100 PCR units than 1,000 PCR units. The highest recoveries were obtained when surfaces were swabbed with microfiber cloth moistened in and eluted with glycine buffer after a HuNoV inoculation dose of 100 PCR units: 66% ¡ 18% on latex, 89% ¡ 2% on plastic, and 79% ¡ 10% on stainless steel. The highest recovery for cucumber, 45% ¡ 5%, was obtained when swabbing the surface with microfiber cloth and PBS. The stability of HuNoV was tested in microfiber cloths moistened in PBS or glycine buffer. HuNoV RNA was detected from swabs after 3 days at 4 and 22uC, although the RNA levels decreased more rapidly in swabs moistened with glycine buffer than in those moistened with PBS at 22uC. In the field study, 172 microfiber and 45 cotton wool swab samples were taken from environmental surfaces at three food processing companies. Five (5.6%) of 90 swabs collected in 2010 and 7 (8.5%) of 82 swabs collected in 2012 were positive for HuNoV genogroup II; all positive samples were collected with microfiber swabs. Three positive results were obtained from the production line and nine were obtained from the food workers’ break room and restroom areas. Swabbing is a powerful tool for HuNoV RNA detection from environmental surfaces and enables investigation of virus transmission during food processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1421-1428
JournalJournal of Food Protection
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2013
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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