The University of Liverpool is leading a £2 million Food Standards Agency (FSA) project to map the occurrence of norovirus in food premises and industry workers.
Norovirus outbreaks can rapidly affect large numbers of people. In 2012 a batch of frozen strawberries infected 11,000 people in Germany, but there are significant gaps in the authorities' understanding of which strains cause infection and which foods are the most likely to harbour the bacteria.
Researchers will produce data that will help the FSA to develop plans to reduce the infection by collecting swabs from work surfaces at more than 200 pubs, restaurants and hotels in the North West and South East of England.
It is not clear what proportion of the infections come from food itself and which come from the people and environment involved in bringing it to the plate. The team will also investigate occurrences of the virus in shops in three of the highest risk foodstuffs: oysters, salad and berries.
They will combine the information with the outputs of the other research strands to generate an assessment of the true impact of the virus to infection in the UK.
Epidemiology and population health expert, Professor Sarah O'Brien said: "The FSA has been hampered by a lack of data on the origins of outbreaks in the past, but this research should give it enough information to work on prevention strategies, and insight which allows it to focus its resources most effectively."
The study will be conducted through a collaboration comprising the University of Liverpool's Institute for Infection and Global Health, Public Health England, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the Food and Environment Research Agency, Leatherhead Food Research and the University of East Anglia.