A Story on Preventing Seafood Contamination

Norovirus is a rather nasty single-stranded RNA virus that is infamous for contaminating seafood. For seafood enthusiasts, including most of us down here on the Gulf Coast, norovirus is more than an occasional nuisance.

Norovirus infection is characterized by nausea, forceful vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. - Wiki

Yuck, right? Norovirus is not only highly contagious, but it is a leading cause of illness from contaminated food in the United States, according to the CDC. Less than 100 individual virus particles are enough to make a seafood consumer extremely ill.

Unfortunately for the Gulf Coast region, oysters are a common source of norovirus infection. In January 2013, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) closed a Cameron Parish oyster harvesting area after a norovirus outbreak was detected as originating from the area. But unlike previous oyster norovirus outbreaks, which were only detected once consumers fell ill, the Cameron Parish outbreak was predicted in advance by a research team at Louisiana State University.

By predicting seafood contamination events from oceanographic and climate conditions including water temperature, salinity and bacteria levels, researchers like Dr. Zhiqiang Deng at LSU can minimize illnesses and economic losses from seafood recalls.

But how did Dr. Deng predict the Cameron Parish norovirus outbreak? The answer lies in computer models and remote satellite data on water conditions and levels of a bacteria known as fecal coliform. Dr. Deng has created a model that predicts norovirus levels based on rising and falling levels of fecal coliform. Norovirus outbreaks have historically been correlated to high levels of fecal coliform in water in oyster harvesting areas.

You can read the full story about Dr. Deng's oyster contamination prediction model here.

In the mean time, wash your hands and rinse your fruits and vegetables before consumption to ward off norovirus particles. The CDC recommends cooking shellfish thoroughly (at 140 degrees F or higher) and cleaning cooking surfaces carefully.