The Threat of Enteric Viruses in Agricultural Water

Profile picture of Yusuf wearing a light blue shirt and with his arms crossed, agricultural water | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFASWe are pleased to introduce Yusuf Nuradeen, a food science master’s degree student and the latest guest in our FSHN Research Journeys series, which follows graduate students’ research in the Food Science and Human Nutrition program at The University of Florida. Yusuf is committed to understanding the implications of food security on a global scale. In addition, he aims to develop techniques to improve the safety of the food supply and meet public health needs. In this article, learn about his crucial research into norovirus in agricultural water and mitigation strategies designed to reduce the risk of foodborne diseases.


The persistence of human norovirus (hNoV) in agricultural water has raised concerns regarding the safety of fresh produce consumption. This persistence is particularly worrisome due to the crucial role that agricultural water plays in the production of fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural products. The environmental stability of hNoV is influenced by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, making it a particularly resilient pathogen.1

In the US, viruses surpass other pathogens as the main culprits behind foodborne diseases, constituting over half of such cases as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s findings.2 The alarming reality is that these viruses can survive in water used in preharvest through postharvest practices, posing a hidden but substantial risk to both the food supply chain and human health. My research aims to shine a spotlight on this under-examined issue, setting the groundwork for effective intervention strategies and safeguarding the very backbone of global sustenance.

Yusuf stands with two other students wearing name tags on lanyards | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFAS
Yusuf volunteers during the 2024 IFT Florida Section Supplier Night Expo in Orlando. L to R: Chunya Tang (Florida State University), Yaqi Zhao (Florida State University), Yusuf.
Enteric Viruses: Key Contributors to Foodborne Illnesses

As the global community grapples with climate change, a crucial issue has emerged: the scarcity of clean irrigation water. Compounding this challenge is a less conspicuous but equally grave threat, which is the enduring presence of enteric viruses in agricultural water sources. Predominantly, human noroviruses (hNoV) and hepatitis A virus (HAV) are notable for their detrimental impact on public health and food systems worldwide.

Enteric viruses, particularly hNoV and HAV, are the primary agents in widespread foodborne illnesses. Notably, hNoV globally accounts for approximately 21 million cases, 70,000 hospitalizations, and 800 deaths annually.3 These pathogens can contaminate various food types, including seafood, fruits, and vegetables. The implications extend beyond health concerns; in the US alone, the economic toll of foodborne diseases is profound, amounting to billions of dollars each year.4

Yusuf stands with his hands in his pockets in front of a giant orange UF sign | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFAS
Yusuf in the UF Reitz Union. Header: Lab members enjoy the FSHN holiday party. L to R: Rose Omidvar, Ehran Safaei, Yusuf, Dr. Naim Montazeri, Razieh Sadat Mirmahdi.
Why Existing Norovirus Prevention Strategies Are Insufficient

Norovirus often contaminates agricultural water via raw or minimally treated human sewage, which reaches water bodies like rivers, lakes, or groundwater. Additionally, stormwater runoff can transfer norovirus from contaminated areas into agricultural water sources. Noroviruses are notably resilient and capable of persisting under a range of environmental conditions for extended durations.5

The effectiveness of current prevention strategies, including chlorination and UV irradiation, is limited and inconsistently effective against norovirus.6 Filtration methods, although promising, are not yet broadly implemented. Furthermore, while subsurface drip irrigation reduces surface contamination, it does not preclude the internalization of viruses in plants.7 These gaps highlight the urgent need for more effective norovirus mitigation techniques in agricultural practices.

Embracing Food Security Challenges: My Journey to UF for Food Virology Research

My journey towards a significant research endeavor began with a deep understanding of the multifaceted food security issues plaguing not just Nigeria, my home country, but the entire African continent. The intricate web of climate change impacts, persistent droughts, and global disruptions such as the Ukrainian conflict, all contribute to these challenges. This realization brought into sharp focus the complex nexus of global events, environmental issues, and the direct struggles affecting local communities in Africa.

Yusuf stands outside in front of bike racks.
Yusuf at the UF HUB.

This awareness led to the conception of my research project, which extends beyond mere food safety. It explores the broader spectrum of waterborne pathogens and their influence on food security, especially in areas already beset by external hardships. My quest for solutions and knowledge steered me towards the University of Florida, renowned for its cutting-edge research programs and focus on innovation in agriculture and food science.

The turning point in my decision was the pioneering work underway in Dr. Naim Montazeri’s lab. His expertise and research objectives resonated profoundly with mine, promising a synergistic collaboration with the potential to make substantial contributions to food and environmental virology. Thus, my path to address food security challenges has led me to UF, where I am now deeply engaged in critical research. This endeavor is not just an academic pursuit; it’s a commitment to finding solutions that could positively influence food security on a global scale, embodying a journey of exploration, innovation, and an unwavering dedication to a safer, more secure future.

Yusif is standing outside next to a blue FSHN sign wearing a brown jacket and holding a green cup and straw.
Yusuf outside the FSHN Aquatic Food Products Lab.
Laboratory Simulation of Norovirus in Agricultural Water

In my research, I will conduct laboratory simulations to investigate the behaviors of hNoV and HAV under conditions mimicking agricultural water. The primary aim is to ascertain the longevity of these viruses. In other words, we seek to understand whether they are transient or demonstrate persistence. This inquiry is crucial for understanding the associated risks to public health and food safety. The overall goal of my research is to investigate the persistence of enteric viruses in agricultural water and soil and routes of post-harvest transmission to fresh produce.

The overall goal of my research is to elucidate the persistence and transmission dynamics of hNoV and HAV in agricultural water and plant materials, with a focus on enhancing food safety. I aim to employ laboratory simulation studies and RT-qPCR for monitoring viral fate and transport and infectivity assay (cell culture assays) for assessing the survival of viral infectious particles. The results of these studies will help generate knowledge that supports the development of effective guidelines and intervention strategies aimed at reducing the risk of widespread outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with the consumption of fresh produce.

A key challenge in studying hNoV is its inability to be effectively grown in lab conditions, coupled with the lack of a suitable small animal model for in-depth research on its behavior.8 Therefore, using surrogate viruses becomes essential, especially for analyzing environmental samples from water or food. These surrogates are critical for signaling the potential presence of harmful pathogens.

Yusuf stands outside with his hands in his pockets in front of an arched University of Florida sign, agricultural water | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFAS
Yusuf is engaged in critical research at the University of Florida.
Tackling Norovirus Detection Challenges in Agricultural Water

Detecting human norovirus in irrigation water is challenging due to its genetic diversity and lack of an effective infectivity assay. Our approach to these challenges includes standardizing methods such as plaque assays for testing viral infectivity, and reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) to quantify the viral genome accurately.

Understanding the persistence of enteric viruses like hNoV and HAV in agricultural water is of utmost importance. The resilience of these viruses poses significant risks to global health and food safety. This study is crucial in highlighting and addressing a critical yet often overlooked issue. It aims to establish a foundation for developing effective prevention and mitigation strategies, thereby strengthening our defenses in the global food and health ecosystems.

Yusuf Nuradeen is a first-year food science master’s degree student in the UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition department. Driven by a relentless curiosity for understanding the intricate relationship between food safety and public health, Yusuf’s research aims to shed light on a subject that has significant implications for global food safety and health systems.

  1. Anderson-Coughlin BL, Craighead S, Kelly A, et al. Enteric Viruses and Pepper Mild Mottle Virus Show Significant Correlation in Select Mid-Atlantic Agricultural Waters. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2021;87(13):e00211-21. doi:10.1128/AEM.00211-21
  2. Hall AJ, Wikswo ME, Pringle K, et al. Vital signs: foodborne norovirus outbreaks – United States, 2009-2012. MMWR Morbidity and mortality weekly report. 2014;63(22):491-495.
  3. World Health Organization. WHO Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases: Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group 2007-2015. World Health Organization; 2015. Accessed September 15, 2023.
  4. Scharff RL. State Estimates for the Annual Cost of Foodborne Illness. Journal of Food Protection. 2015;78(6):1064-1071. doi:10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-14-505
  5. Seitz SR, Leon JS, Schwab KJ, et al. Norovirus infectivity in humans and persistence in water. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011;77(19):6884-6888. doi:10.1128/AEM.05806-11
  6. Shearer AEH, Kniel KE. Enhanced Removal of Norovirus Surrogates, Murine Norovirus and Tulane Virus, from Aqueous Systems by Zero-Valent Iron. Journal of Food Protection. 2018;81(9):1432-1438. doi:10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-18-054
  7. Yang Z, Chambers H, DiCaprio E, Gao G, Li J. Internalization and dissemination of human norovirus and Tulane virus in fresh produce is plant dependent. Food Microbiology. 2018;69:25-32. doi:
  8. Vega E, Barclay L, Gregoricus N, Shirley SH, Lee D, Vinjé J. Genotypic and epidemiologic trends of norovirus outbreaks in the United States, 2009 to 2013. Journal of Clinical Microbiology. 2014;52(1):147-155. doi:doi: 10.1128/JCM.02680-13
Looking for more posts exploring graduate research projects in the FSHN Department at the University of Florida?

Dive into the Research Journeys of other graduate students below.

M.S. Food Science
M.S. Nutritional Sciences
Ph.D. Food Science
Ph.D. Nutritional Sciences


Jessie Erwin, Nutrition Communications Consultant for the UF/IFAS FSHN department.
Posted: February 26, 2024

Category: Agriculture, Food Safety, Food Science & Human Nutrition, Work & Life
Tags: Agricultural Water, Dr. Naim Montazeri, Food Safety, Food Science, Food-science-research, FSHN Research Journeys, Masters Student, Masters Student Research, Masters-research, Norovirus, Norovirus Contamination, Research Journeys, Research-journeys-food-science, Research-journeys-food-science-ms, Yusuf Nuradeen

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