No evidence of COVID-19 transmission through food, say scientists

Packaging of food is not a source of contamination, according to experts 

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Friday 27 March 2020
Spice available in India. Source: public domain pictures

Amid speculation that novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) could spread through food, scientists have claimed that the same has not be established so far.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), in a situation report, noted that undercooked or raw meat should be avoided.

It said:

Studies are being conducted to evaluate the viability and survival time of SARS-CoV-2 virus. As a general rule, the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, raw milk or raw animal organs should be handled with care to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Experts are of the view that even packaging of food is not a source of contamination.

“We don't have any evidence to prove that food or its packaging can get a person infected with COVID-19,” a media report quoted Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, as saying.

COVID-19 spreads from person-to-person through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or when she comes in contact with contaminated surfaces and then touches her nose, mouth or eyes.

Scientists believe that if food safety measures are in place, the spread of the disease is likely to be very less. Measures like washing hands frequently, cleaning surfaces, utensils and cooking food properly at the right temperature reduce chances of transmission through food. Even if the virus is present on food, or a person cooking food is infected, the chance of spread is low when these preventive measures are followed, according to experts.

Biologically, too, a virus cannot sustain on a surface for weeks and unlike bacteria, cannot grow on or inside food.

However, some viruses such as norovirus and rotavirus are known to cause foodborne illness. These viruses can, however, spread if the food is cleaned or processed with contaminated water.

For example, fruits and vegetables grown on land fertilised with animal waste or irrigated with contaminated water can have higher chances of carrying these viruses.

However, foodborne infections through norovirus and rotavirus can be prevented through good hygiene practices like washing hands, fruits, vegetables and meat products, according to scientists.

With the whole of India under lockdown for 21 days, buying groceries and other essential items can be tougher than usual. State governments have taken several measures to ensure there is no shortage of food or access to it.

 While collecting groceries, here are some precautions one should take.

  • In case of packed food like flour and bread, empty the contents into a container, throw the packing immediately and clean the surface where it was placed after purchase. Wash your hands
  • Cook the food above 65 degrees celsius for three minutes
  • Food industry must have a strong employee health policy. If food handlers feel any kind of symptoms of COVID -19, they should stay home, according to Chapman university

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.