Household tips to keep your food safe: Part 1
2020-06-17

There seems to be a growing trend across social media of plastic-packed groceries being submerged into soapy sinks, followed by a production line of drying produce covering our kitchen units. While washing packaging may seem a bit extreme, it is motivated by our desire to keep our loved ones safe. So what is the deal with food and coronavirus? Can Covid-19 be transmitted by our food? In our first blog, we will take a look at how coronavirus is transmitted, how this is different from foodborne transmission and look at what is being done at the food industry level to protect consumers.

Coronavirus transmission

Coronavirus transmission spreads through person-to-person contact via droplets. The key point in this definition is the spread is person-to-person. Person-to-person transmission is different from foodborne transmission in several ways. Foodborne transmission is easy to trace back to an original source. This is why foodborne transmissions don’t tend to develop into pandemics as opposed to person-to-person transmission. The transmission diagram above helps visualise differences between foodborne and person-to-person transmission.

Knowing how transmission occurs is important to keep people safe and develop control strategies. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded there is no evidence of coronavirus transmission through consumption of food provided basic hygiene practices are followed. EFSA reached this conclusion from the German federal institute for risk assessment which showed the risk of coronavirus transmission to food is minimal. Also, previous coronavirus outbreaks like MERS and SARS were not transmitted through food sources, suggesting the transmission behaviour of coronaviruses is not typically foodborne.

However, it is important to remember that droplet transmission can generate fomites. Fomites are objects which retain an infective agent for a certain length of time like door handles and handrails Therefore there is a slight possibility coronavirus can be transmitted through food packaging acting as a fomite. But again under normal hygiene circumstances, this risk is significantly reduced. Food packaging is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to transmission as although it can act as a fomite, it also acts as a physical barrier to stop the virus coming into contact with food. Loose items may be slightly more at risk of transmission, but we will discuss how to handle loose food in the next post.

What about the food industry?

Industries are working hard to reduce the risk of fomite transmission in the workplace. Efforts include providing PPE and adhering to already existing hygiene practices. Food safety is not a new concept and the legislation and protocols in place pre-corona should minimise the transmission of infectious agents from food. Food safety legislation is enforced on national levels across the United Kingdom and similar policies exist across Europe regulated through the EU which encompasses measures to reduce transmission.

Take home message

As suggested by EFSA, food poses minimal risk to coronavirus transmission when following everyday hygiene rules. However, we need to be wary that on rare occasions, fomite transmission can occur through food packaging. In our next blog, we explain how we can protect our households against transmission from groceries and food packaging.

Resources:

 Image sources: Artists from unsplash: Luann Hunt, Zach Reiner, Maria Lin Kim.

 

Published by The School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, University of Aberdeen

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