COVID-19 test for food packaging and environmental surfaces

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Thursday, 21 January, 2021

COVID-19 test for food packaging and environmental surfaces

The British Medical Journal has called meat plants the “new front line” in the COVID-19 pandemic.1 But they are not the only facilities at risk. A report released by shareholder advisor Pirc in September said there had been at least 1461 SARS-CoV-2 infections and six deaths linked to the UK’s food processing plants in 2020.2

Factories, retailers and hospitality establishments are favourable environments for transmission. Workplaces are crowded, social distancing can be challenging and the virus thrives in lower temperatures. Crucially, metallic surfaces can retain live viruses for longer than those of other materials.1

Outbreaks result in staff shortages, factory closures and lost revenues. They also introduce risk into the value chain. Studies have shown that in some conditions, the virus can remain viable on common surfaces, such as that used for food packaging, for up to 28 days.3

Retailers and producers, then, are increasingly looking for laboratory tests that can help them control the efficiency of the sanitation processes and barriers procedures — and give them the information they need to keep their staff safe, their brand untarnished and their doors open.

The Thermo Scientific SARS-CoV-2 PCR Workflow for food packaging and environmental surfaces is a complete end-to-end workflow, encompassing sampling, sample preparation and detection. It can deliver results in as little as three hours, quickly providing users with the information they need to manage any potential surface or packaging contamination risks.

The test, which has been performance tested and validated by AOAC International for qualitative detection of the virus on environmental surfaces, includes three TaqMan RT‑PCR assays to target SARS-CoV-2 (ORF1ab, N-gene, S-gene) genes, and one positive control assay, targeting the Human RNase P RPPH1 gene offering both high specificity and sensitivity. Because of the multi-target design of this assay, overall test sensitivity should not be impacted by the new SARS-CoV-2 strain lineage—B.1.1.7 variant.

Laboratories can be confident on the results because:

  • the test targets three different viral genomic regions, ORF1ab, N-gene, S-gene, reducing the risk of false negatives;
  • extensive bioinformatic selection and analysis has been undertaken to specifically target sequences that are unique to SARS-CoV-2;
  • the RNase P assay is run in duplex with the combined 2019-nCoV assays as an internal positive control.

The Thermo Scientific SARS-CoV-2 PCR workflow can be run on the Applied Biosystems 7500 Fast Real-Time PCR System or the Applied Biosystems QuantStudio 5 Real-Time PCR System which many food and environmental testing labs are used to working with. Both instruments are also suitable for the company’s complete portfolio of PCR tests for food pathogens and environmental samples, biothreat organisms, animal species identification and GMO testing.

Bernd Hofmann, vice president marketing, Thermo Fisher Microbiology, said: “SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted when a healthy person touches contaminated food or environmental contact surfaces, including packaging materials, and then touches their eyes, mouth or nose. In the current pandemic, food and beverage companies, retailers, public health authorities and other businesses are seeking solutions to monitor the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in their environments. This is crucial to protecting key workers, consumers and the food industry as a whole.

“As a company that supplies the components for more than 50% of COVID-19 diagnostics, we are uniquely placed to help the sector rise to the challenge of SARS-CoV-2.”

References:

1. Middleton, J., Reintjes, R., et al. Meat plants—a new front line in the covid-19 pandemic. (2020). https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2716

2. Martin, A. A PIRC sector briefing: food production. Unreported deaths. (2020). http://www.pirc.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/PIRC_sector_food_processing.pdf

3. Riddell, S., Goldie, S., Hill, A. et al. The effect of temperature on persistence of SARS-CoV-2 on common surfaces. Virol J 17, 145 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12985-020-01418-7

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