UK National Reference Laboratory (NRL)
for foodborne viruses
Providing information and guidance on public health related to viruses in foods
Viruses are important causes of foodborne illness with transmission of many different viruses including norovirus, hepatitis A virus and hepatitis E virus linked to consumption of contaminated food. The foodstuffs most commonly implicated in viral illness include bivalve shellfish and fresh produce (fruit and vegetables), but a wide variety of other foods including meat and processed foods have also been implicated in cases. Outbreaks of viral illness due to contamination of the surfaces of foods, or food preparation surfaces by for example infected food handlers are also common.
In response to a number of significant outbreaks of viral illness involving foods imported into the European Union, the European Commission has appointed an EU reference laboratory (EURL) for foodborne viruses, based at the National Food Agency, Uppsala, Sweden, with a Work Programme starting from January 1st 2018.
Following designation of an EURL, the competent authority in each EU member state is responsible for designating a corresponding national reference laboratory (NRL), which:
- co-ordinates the activities of other official laboratories in that state
- represents the views of the state's laboratories at the European level
In the UK, the competent authority responsible for the implementation of the EU Regulations is the Food Standards Agency (FSA). That agency, in turn, has designated Cefas' Weymouth laboratory as the UK NRL for foodborne viruses.
Article 101 of Regulation (EU) 2017/625 stipulates that NRLs will:
- collaborate with the European Union reference laboratories, and participate in training courses and in inter-laboratory comparative tests organised by these laboratories;
- coordinate the activities of official laboratories with a view of harmonising and improving the methods of laboratory analysis, test or diagnosis and their use;
- where appropriate, organise inter-laboratory comparative testing or proficiency tests between official laboratories, ensure an appropriate follow-up of such tests and inform the competent authorities of the results of such tests and follow-up;
- ensure the dissemination to the competent authorities and official laboratories of information that the European Union reference laboratory supplies;
- provide within the scope of their mission scientific and technical assistance to the competent authorities for the implementation of multi-annual national control plans and of coordinated control programmes;
- where relevant, validate the reagents and lots of reagents, establish and maintain up-to-date lists of available reference substances and reagents and of manufacturers and suppliers of such substances and reagents;
- where necessary, conduct training courses for the staff of official laboratories;
- assist actively the Member State in the diagnosis of outbreaks of foodborne diseases and in case of non-compliance of consignments, by carrying out confirmatory diagnoses, characterisation and epizootic or taxonomic studies on pathogen isolates.