Unit Viruses in Food

Viruses that can be transmitted by food are of increasing public and scientific interest. Although viruses cannot multiply on food, they are highly stable on foods, and even the intake of very low amounts can result in illness.

Noroviruses, rotaviruses and hepatitis A virus almost always enter the food chain through contamination with human excretions, and this can be prevented by taking suitable hygiene measures. In contrast, the hepatitis E virus can infect food-producing animals without these animals falling sick, and the virus can then be transmitted to humans via food products made from those animals.


The Unit investigates transmission paths and properties of food-borne viruses in depth in order to identify risks at the earliest possible stage and to develop concepts to minimise these risks. As investigations of this kind were difficult in the past due to the absence of suitable detection systems, one of the focal points of the work of the unit is the development of efficient methods for the detection of viruses in foods.

The National Reference Laboratory for Foodborne Viruses is located within the Unit.

The main areas of work in the Unit are as follows:

  • Diagnostics of noroviruses, rotaviruses, and hepatitis A and E viruses in food using molecular biological methods
  • Development and validation of detection methods for viruses
  • Production of reference material for the detection of viruses in food and organization of laboratory ring trials
  • Investigations to determine the stability of viruses in food
  • Identification and characterisation of new food-associated viruses
  • Investigation of the transmissibility to humans of viruses excreted by animals
  • Investigation of the spread of these viruses in animal reservoirs
  • Identification of transmission paths of food-associated viruses

The Unit also houses the Pathology Working Group, the central entity that performs light and electron microscopic analysis for the Institute (e.g. fluorescence microscopy, immunohistochemistry, negative staining, ultra-thin sectioning, immunoelectron microscopy).

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