Battling the Leading Cause of Foodborne Illness

Eric Moorman

The issue.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the average American will contract norovirus 5 times during their lifetime2. This pathogen is the leading cause of foodborne illness causing approximately 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis annually, including 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths. But what about this virus allows it to be such a large contributor to the global disease burden? For one, there are many ways to get sick. Illness results from direct contact with the virus through infected individuals and/or their bodily fluids (vomitus and feces), as well as indirect contact through contaminated food, water, fomites and environmental surfaces. Secondly, it is very difficult to inactivate norovirus. The virus’s enteric nature provides it with an inherent resistance to harsh acidic conditions; this feature, in conjunction with its non-enveloped morphology results in what some call ‘the perfect pathogen’.

What is being done to combat norovirus?

Our lab here at NCSU (led by Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus) alongside numerous other academic and government groups are working together to tackle this issue. One of the ways we are doing this is by interrupting one of the specific transmission routes exploited by norovirus: food contact and environmental surfaces. It is now understood that many commonly used surface disinfectants, e.g.,  ethanol, quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs), and/or organic acid active ingredients, do not completely inactivate human norovirus. One of our goals here at NCSU is to work alongside the industry to evaluate the anti-noroviral efficacy of commercial disinfectants, both conventional and novel. Some of our recent work has sought to demonstrate and quantify the anti-noroviral efficacy of disinfectant formulations containing hypochlorous acid, chlorine dioxide, and hydrogen peroxide.  Our group has also demonstrated that copper and copper alloy surfaces demonstrate strong anti-noroviral activity.

What is needed?

Continuous collaboration amongst experts and between public and private entities is critical. The USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative (NoroCORE) (link here) is an excellent example. Academic, government, and industry members alike need to work together to identify new ways to prevent and control norovirus, and perhaps even more so, develop strategies for their successful implementation by industry. We like to think big picture in our lab and welcome any comments or suggestions on how our work might have the broadest impact on norovirus disease prevention.


1.  Aron J. Hall, Roger I. Glass & Umesh D. Parashar (2016): New insights into the global burden of noroviruses and opportunities for prevention, Expert Review of Vaccines, DOI: 10.1080/14760584.2016.1178069

2.  Centers for Disease Control: Prevent the Spread of Norovirus.

Eric Moorman

Graduate Research Assistant NC State University