Firstly, just for clarity, SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus, while COVID-19 is the name of the disease it causes.
We have been told on numerous occasions to wash our hands to stop us becoming infected via transfer of virus particles from contaminated surfaces to our mouths. This opens the potential for transmission to occur, at least in theory, if contaminated food is eaten without being subjected to a treatment that would inactivate the virus. Also, it is also possible that the source of contamination could be food packaging. However, possible is not the same as probable, or even likely, and the information available suggests that the foodborne route as a source of infection is very low when a risk-based approach is used.
This conclusion has been drawn by the FSA in England and Wales1. They conclude ‘We consider that the probability that UK consumers will receive potentially infectious exposures of SARS-CoV-2 via the consumption of contaminated food or via food contact materials is Very Low (‘very rare but cannot be excluded’)’, although it is acknowledged that the data surrounding this particular virus are sparse. It is interesting to read the risk assessment in respect to how little hard data are available for the virus and the reliance if the risk assessment on data that have been produced for other similar viruses (mainly SARS-CoV). The report has some information concerning the survival of virus on surfaces but this information needs to be taken with some caution as the ‘survival time’ depends on the starting concentration of the virus, the rate of inactivation under the given conditions, and the sensitivity of the detection assay.
UK-specific advice has been published relevant to small businesses making home deliveries2, which goes beyond straight hygiene information. Also, there is practical government guidance3 to food businesses that ‘covers a range of areas including good hygiene practice, management of employee sickness, and social distancing for specific food business settings.’
Elsewhere in the world, EFSA has stated that there is no information linking the foodborne transmission of similar viruses4. The USDA have provided a fairly lengthy FAQ site5 containing the opinion ‘We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.’ The other arm of food safety in the US, the FDA, have posted information6 on ‘Best Practices for Retail Food Stores, Restaurants, and Food Pick-Up/Delivery Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic’.
Of course, there are many other adverse effects to the food industry that may occur/have occurred, but this little blog is focussed on the food safety aspect only. One paper6 that may be worth a read covers:
- The Role of Bioactive Ingredients in Supporting the Human Immune System
- Food Safety within the Pandemic Crisis
- Food Security with the Globe’s Population Lockdown
- Sustainability of Food Systems in the New Era of Pandemic Crises
It is amazing that this paper was reviewed and accepted within three weeks of submission.