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Mitigating risk of Coronavirus from food products

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Alok Mishra
Budding Writer; Communicating Science.

COVID-19 disease, resulting from one of the most contagious virus SARS-CoV-2, has affected almost all parts of the world. Around millions of people have been infected with it and more than 35 thousand have succumbed to death. The numbers are still rising. ‘Social distancing’ has become a common jargon in every household. However, one needs to go out for food, medicine and other essential daily needs. Among all, food and water are the most essential requirements of life.

Does food & water spread SARS-CoV-2 virus?

At present, there is no evidence that food or water systems support growth and transmission of coronaviruses. A person can get COVID-19 only when he/she comes in contact with surface or object having the virus on it and he/she touches their nose, mouth, or possibly eyes. However, this cannot be assumed as the main way of transmission. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.

Shopping grocery items Safely

steps should be followed during grocery shopping to help protect from coronavirus.

  • Use masks while visiting a grocery store or mart.
  • Select fruits and vegetables that are not bruised or damaged.
  • Fruits and vegetables should be bagged separately from raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Wash your hands after handling food and food packages when you return from the grocery store and after removing packaging from food.

Steps of food safety

Clean: Wash fruits & vegetables thoroughly under running water with intermittent rubbing. Wash them after taking home from grocery store, before eating, and before cooking. Use of soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash is not recommended for washing fruits and vegetables. Washing should be followed by drying with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce pathogen load from the surface. Cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter-tops should be washed with soap and hot water. Frequent cleaning and disinfection of surfaces should be done. Ladles, tongs, condiment holders etc. should be washed and sanitized frequently.

Separate: Raw meat, poultry, fruits & vegetables must be separated from ready to eat foods and cooked foods. It is advisable to use different chopping boards, knives, and utensils for fresh produce, raw meat & poultry, and cooked foods. Cross-contamination among themselves must be avoided.

Cook: Cooking may kill virus as the experiences with previous coronavirus incidences (MERS & SARS) suggest heat treatment of 60 °C for 30 minutes have been found effective. Pressure cooking should be done to ensure maximum safety of cooked food. Washing hands and maintaining good hygiene is a must. For raw milk, an extended boiling should be practiced to ensure maximum safety. Pasteurized milk should be boiled before consumption. Milk packets should also be washed in running water followed by hand washing, before tearing the packet.

Storage: Cooked food should be consumed within two hours of preparation. If not, it should be refrigerated below 5 °C. Such refrigerated or thawed frozen RTE foods should be heated before consumption.

Other important points

  • US-Food & Drug Administration (FDA) advises not to share foods and beverages.
  • Good hand-washing requires use of enough soap to form a good leather for at least 20 seconds. Rub all parts of hands vigorously and thoroughly, followed by thorough rinsing under running water. Dry hands thoroughly using personal towel or disposable paper towels.
  • If hand-washing option is not accessible, an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol may be used. However, it is not a replacement to soap & water.
  • Soap, liquid detergent and dishwasher detergents are likely to inactivate the virus.
  • Touch points e.g. door handles, stove knobs, induction buttons, railings, etc., should be cleaned more frequently.
  • During grocery shopping, money handling should be avoided by using possible contact less payments options.
  • Prepare fresh cooked food at home avoiding takeaways and online orders, if possible.
  • Follow social distancing and safety measures for takeaways and online food orders.

Maintaining safety

Since there is no vaccine available at present for the prevention of COVID-19, avoiding exposure to this virus is the best way to prevent illness. Thus, basic principles of hygiene should be followed. Washing hands, cleaning and disinfecting surroundings, avoiding close contact, and taking advice from a doctor upon illness are the best ways to maintain the safety of all the family members.

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Alok Mishra
Budding Writer; Communicating Science.

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