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Coronavirus crisis: Are you eating safe food?

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Alok Mishra
Alok Mishra
Budding Writer; Communicating Science.

Coronavirus, a family of viruses, usually is responsible for a mild respiratory illness which is identical to the common cold. In the past, some of them are known to cause severe illnesses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The recent outbreak of a disease with pneumonia-like symptoms originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The virus has been recently named “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2″ (SARS-CoV-2) by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). The disease was termed COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) by WHO on 11th Feb 2020.

COVID-19 has taken many lives across the world and is spreading its leg in India as well. Many states have declared the disease as pandemic and utmost efforts are being made to control the outbreak. People are in fray whether or not the COVID-19 gets transmitted through food. This delusion among the masses must be resolved with awareness and dissemination of correct information.

Does coronavirus make food unsafe?

The good news is, food does not support the growth of any virus as the viruses need a host (animal or human). In addition, experiences from SARS & MERS suggest that cooking food can kill the virus. The heat treatment at 60 ℃ for at least 30 minutes would be effective. Thus, it is unlikely that cooked foods can raise concern until it is prevented from being contaminated post-cooking.

Which food is unsafe?

In India, most of the people are of habit to take food cooked in their homes. Such persons are safer than those having a habit of eating out, ordering food online, or are residing in hostels or as paying guests. So, the question arises on the safety of outside food and packed food. One should refrain from eating at unhygienic eateries and should avoid outside food if they are not sure of its hygiene. The food prepared in open, unhygienic conditions, and being handled by persons not following good hygiene are of greater concern. Packed foods from good companies that are following quality assurance standards norms are unlikely to be unsafe as they follow strictly adhere to the norms to provide safer products.

Are fruits & vegetables safe?

Being a zoonotic disease, COVID-19 does not affects plants. However, the raw and under-cooked foods (fruits & veggies) can spread the diseases, if they are being handled by an infected person. If raw consumption is intended, good hygiene and proper cleaning must be followed to ensure their safety. Also, cross-contamination between raw/uncooked foods & the cooked or ready to eat foods must be avoided.

Should we eat poultry & meat based food?

The spread of disease through the consumption of poultry & poultry products does not hold merit as per the current knowledge and past experiences with the SARS & MERS. FSSAI, the food safety regulator in India, has issued a clarification on this matter stating poultry and their products to be considered as safe. However, the suggestions made by the WHO on hygiene must be followed. In addition, FSSAI has also advised avoiding the consumption of raw or under-cooked meat as well as unprocessed food products. Frozen food items must be consumed only after cooking them properly.

Recommendations for Safe Food:

WHO has issued recommendations for the manufactures as well as food workers to reduce exposure and transmission of the SARS-CoV-2. Those involved in food manufacturing must follow proper hand hygiene; cough/cold hygiene practices; safe food practices; and avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing. Food workers must wash hands: before starting work; before handling cooked or ready-to-eat food; after handling or preparing raw food; after handling waste; after cleaning duties; after using the toilet; after blowing the nose, sneezing or coughing; after eating drinking or smoking; and after handling money.

All the governmental agencies responsible for food safety across the world are having a close watch on the situation. Till now no evidence is available to them that could suggest the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the food or food packaging. US Department of Agriculture advises that good hygiene practices must be followed while handling or preparing foods. As per USDA, one should follow: washing hands & surfaces often, properly cleaning of raw fruits & veggies, separating raw/uncooked meat from other foods, cooking food at the right temperature, and refrigerating food promptly.

What should we do?

As a citizen, it is everyone’s duty to be safe and make others safe by disseminating correct knowledge about the SARS-CoV-2 and not to spread rumours. COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease and it can only be fought by following good hygiene practices. It is the responsibility of everyone involved in handling, preparation, and transport of food materials to follow the hygiene practices recommended by WHO/FSSAI. By doing so, we’ll prevent the spreading of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

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Alok Mishra
Alok Mishra
Budding Writer; Communicating Science.
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