Raspberries

The norovirus—the biggest cause of foodborne illnesses in the world—appears to be transmitted through the spraying of agricultural pesticides on common crops, reports a recent stuffy.

According to research [PDF] published in a recent issue of the journal International Journal of Food Microbiology, farmers regularly mix pesticides with water taken from sources known to be contaminated with the norovirus including lakes, rives, wells and irrigation ditches.

The norovirus causes 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis, 70,000 hospitalizations, and 800 deaths in the U.S. each year. There is no known drug for treating or preventing the virus.

Until now, no one had previously tested whether or not the virus stays infectious in the water once mixed with pesticides. While some pesticides and herbicides are in effect antibiotics, researchers at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven and the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, who conducted the study, found that the norovirus stays active in the presence of pesticides, making it a microbial risk factor through commonly treated foods.

The researchers used eight common fungicides and insecticides, found often on raspberries and lettuce. They spiked water with concentrations recommended for treating crops and inoculated the solutions with the virus.  They found that the norovirus strains remained stable in seven of the eight pesticides used.

The researchers advised that the biggest risk for contracting a strain of the norovirus may be in consuming berries including strawberries and raspberries. They’re often sprayed just before harvest to prevent spoiling.

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Image: La Grande Farmers Market