Food Virology is an emerging discipline, actually a subset of Food Microbiology. Food Microbiology is the study of microorganisms in food systems. We often think of three general classifications of food borne microorganisms….the Good (fermentation microorganisms, used to produce value-added food products like cheese and yogurt); the Bad (microorganisms that spoil food, think moldy bread or sour milk); and the Ugly (microorganisms that cause food-related illnesses). The latter category encompasses all the major bacterial pathogens we hear about in the news, for instance E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and many others.
Those of us who study the “ugly” guys are called Food Safety microbiologists. However, over the last decade, it has become clear that viruses, not bacteria, are the leading cause of food borne disease. This has given rise to a field referred to as Food Virology, or the study of viruses that cause disease in humans and which can be transmitted by consumption of contaminated foods. Food Virology forms a discipline somewhat distinct from Food Microbiology because (i) most food microbiologists know little about viruses; (ii) the behavior of viruses in the environment and foods is quite different than that of disease-causing bacteria; (iii) viruses are much more difficult to work with from a research perspective; and (iv) it is very difficult to control their transmission.
The USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative is trying to change all this. We invite you to launch into our website to find out more.