The project, led by Daniel Holliman, an M.D. with the High Pressure Processing Laboratory, and Laura Douglas, lab manager, will identify one or more effective high pressure processing schedules. The laboratory is a facility of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech, devoted to improving food safety and food processing.
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is one of the more serious illnesses transmissible by shellfish. Worldwide, HAV is responsible for more than 1.5 million cases of the disease each year, with 260,000 cases and more than 100 deaths in the United States. Hepatitis A infection is characterized by fatigue, malaise, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint and muscle aches, and abdominal pain, coupled with the onset of jaundice, a yellowing of the whites of the eyes, and dark urine. The disease generally runs its course in two months, but can linger as long as six. While survival rates for Hepatitis A are above 99 percent, the disease can be very dangerous for infants, the elderly, immunosuppressed people, and those with existing liver disease.
Bivalve shellfish, such as oysters, have been demonstrated to concentrate pathogenic organisms from their environment. In some cases, sewage contamination of harvesting areas, either from coastal runoff or ship discharges, has been shown to result in HAV contamination of oysters. Several studies have demonstrated remarkable concentration and persistence of HAV in shellfish exposed to the virus through their surrounding seawater. Even with depuration, HAV may persist in oysters for several weeks after exposure. The virus also is fairly resistant to heating and may remain viable in shellfish after up to five minutes of steaming.
For these reasons, high hydrostatic pressure treatment of raw oyst ers is especially appealing to oyster processors and distributors, as well as public health officials. HPP makes it possible to eradicate or inactivate pathogens while still delivering a 'raw' product to the consumer.
The study will benefit processors and distributors by mitigating their food safety liability, but most importantly, also will help protect consumers from foodborne infectious disease.
Virginia Sea Grant is part of a 30-state National Sea Grant Program established by Congress in 1966 as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sea-grant colleges research new ideas and technologies to help use, manage, and understand ocean and coastal resources. Virginia Sea Grant funds marine science research in aquaculture, seafood safety and quality, marine resources, coastal ecosystems through a competitive, peer-reviewed grant proposal process. In addition to its core programs, Virginia Sea Grant coordinates research in oyster disease and toxics in the Chesapeake Bay.