SARS-CoV-2 does not pose a food safety risk, health agency says

Children's Health

Globally, millions of people have been infected with the novel coronavirus. Cases are skyrocketing in many countries, including the United States, India, and Brazil.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is mainly a respiratory illness. It spreads by infectious respiratory droplets when someone sneezes, coughs, speaks, or breathes.

Now, a new report by the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF) highlights the link between SARS-CoV-2 infection and food safety. ICMSF is a global non-government organization that aims to provide information on food safety and human health.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many reports have shown that food may be carriers of the infectious agent. These reports have sparked panic and worry about whether ordering food or having food delivered can pave the way for infection with SARS-CoV-2.

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Image captured and colorized at NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana. Credit: NIAID

Not likely a virus source

The agency looked at the evidence that SARS-CoV-2 might be carried on food or its packaging. The team of researchers has found very little, echoing the previous results of a study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that there is no real risk of contracting the virus from food or food packaging.

Further, the agency said that up to date, there had been no reports of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from food and food packaging.

“Considering that there are to date, no proven cases or scientific associations between food consumption and COVID-19, it is highly unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 constitutes a food safety risk,” the researchers said.

“There are relatively few reports of SARS-CoV-2 virus being found on food ingredients, food products, and packaging materials,” the agency added.

The report also says that whether it is possible that people could eat something contaminated with the virus and become infected, there has been no case reported of such a mode of transmission.

“The reports show that a hazard to human health may be present. They do not show that there is a hazard present, or it is a risk to human health via ingestion or handling of food. Viruses present on food or food packaging will also lose viability over time. Following a risk-based approach, it is very unlikely that such contamination would result in infection,” the report explained.

Handwashing is important

Though food and food packaging are unlikely sources of SARS-CoV-2 infections, it is still essential for manufacturers, food handlers, and buyers to practice proper hand hygiene. They should wash their hands before and after preparing food, before eating, or after touching common surfaces that may harbor the virus.

Further, the agency urged food companies to impose the wearing of masks among employees during the handling and delivery of food items. Proper hygiene among workers, along with the disinfection of tools, equipment, and working environment, can help prevent contamination of food products.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that eating or handling food, including frozen food and food packages, is considered low. The health agency said that the best way to combat the coronavirus disease is to observe infection control measures and everyday actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food or food packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” the health agency said.

“After shopping, handling food packages, or before preparing or eating food, it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,” it added.

Global case toll

The coronavirus pandemic is continuously spreading worldwide, and the case toll has now topped 27.45 million people. More than 894,000 people have died while 18.41 million people have recovered.

The United States has more than 6.32 million cases of COVID-19, and at least 189,000 deaths. India surpasses Brazil, with more than 4.28 million confirmed cases. Brazil has more than 4.14 million cases and at least 126,000 deaths.

Russia, Peru, Colombia, and South Africa follow as they report a high number of cases, with more than 1 million cases, more than 691,000 cases, 671,000 cases, and 640,000 cases, respectively.

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