An increasing number of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections in industrialized countries have been foodborne and linked to the consumption of undercooked pork products. To date, data on the prevalence of HEV in pork products sold in the United States is limited and no standard processing method exists for the detection of HEV in foods. In order to develop a processing method for the detection of HEV in pork products, ground pork and pork liver were selected for method development. Murine norovirus (MNV) was used as a process control. A filtration step prior to RNA detection was shown to reduce the level of PCR inhibitors in ground pork and an additional ultracentrifugation process was successful in removing PCR inhibitors in pork liver. MNV RNA was detected in ground pork and liver samples inoculated with 4.7 log PFU/g and 3.0 log PFU/g, respectively. Using the developed method for viral RNA detection in ground pork and pork liver, 20 packages of ground pork (six 1 g sub-samples per package) and 14 pork livers (four 1 g sub-samples per liver) were screened for the presence of HEV RNA. Fifteen out of 119 (12.6%) ground pork samples tested positive for HEV RNA and 13 out of 20 packages (65%) contained at least one positive sample. Twenty-five of 56 (45%) of pork liver samples were positive for HEV RNA and 6 of 14 livers (43%) had all sub-samples test positive for HEV RNA. Overall, the results indicate ground pork and pig liver as a potential source of HEV.
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