28 February 2020
The Coronavirus crisis: Can infections be passed on through food?
coronavirus

The Coronavirus continues to make headlines across the globe. The severe restrictions and regulations China laid down to prevent the outbreak have largely failed and cases have now been recorded in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Asia and India. At time of writing (Feb 24th 2020) the amount of cases is rising steeply: (79,724 reported cases; 2,626 deaths) and there is still no sign of an anti-virus. To prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, there has been a focus on limiting transmission through the air and bodily contact, but can the Coronavirus be spread by food? The short answer to that question is yes but the danger appears to be minimal.

How is Coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus still remains largely an unknown quantity. Scientists are using experience from previous similar virus’ such as SARS. Overall, there appears to be two main ways in which the virus is spread:

Person to Person

Between people who are in close contact with one another (about 6 feet). It appears to be spread via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets land in the mouths or noses of people nearby and travel to the lungs.

Contact with infected objects or surfaces

Infection occurs when a person touches their own nose, mouth or possibly eyes after touching a surface or object harbouring the virus.

When could food be a source of Coronavirus?

The WHO (World health Organisation) has recently released a public advice sheet online and because of the latter factor above, takes the possibility of food infection seriously. In many ways the advice refers to common sense principles which ensure food cleanliness:

  1. Use different chopping boards for cooked meats and raw meats (it is raw meats which harbour the virus).
  2. Wash hands between handling raw or cooked meats
  3. Never eat sick animals which have died from diseases
  4. Actively practice food safety. Food can be eaten as long as it is handled properly during food preparation and cooked thoroughly

At the time of writing this article there have been no known cases where the Coronavirus has been transmitted through food (according to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Germany). As the virus is sensitive to heat, transmission can be greatly reduced by cooking meat. Also, scientists and medics believe Coronavirus has a low environmental stability meaning if it is to be passed on, it would need to be within the short window of time when it is first infected. Transmission by food may be unlikely but it cannot, at this stage be ruled out. This in turn makes food safety essential – specially where imported foods are concerned. 

 

coronavirus

 

Is food safety considered an important factor of food production in Asia?

Food contamination has always been a high priority for the Asia Pacific Food and Beverage Industry, but the really good news is that the global food safety testing market is growing. The investment in 2018 was US$17 billion and by 2023, the investment is expected to be US$24 billion. The growth is taking place for 5 main reasons:

  1. There has been a growth in demand for convenience and packaged food products
  2. There has been a reported increase in outbreaks of chemical contamination in food processing industries
  3. There has been a rise in consumer awareness re food safety
  4. Overall, there has been an increase in outbreaks of food-borne illnesses
  5. The overall globalization of food trade

In Asia, food safety has become a scientific discipline. The facility for scanning for bacteria and contamination has become quite advanced. There was a time when this function was performed visually by inspectors. Now, with new optical scanning technologies (such as Veritide), keeping food contamination at bay is much more efficient.

Conclusion

Day by day the Coronavirus crisis gets closer to becoming an pandemic. Even after the severe restrictions imposed by China, the source country, it has become a global issue. Whereas the primary form of transmission is through contact with another person who has the virus, secondary factors such as contact with infected inanimate objects and infected food cannot be dismissed. The food and beverage industry needs to be extra vigilant therefore with the food production and supply chain. In the same way, consumers need to be thinking about the principles of food safety as a necessity rather than just good practice.

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