EUROPE – Based on experience from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says that there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the coronavirus.
EFSA, based in Parma, north of Italy – which is one of the areas currently subject to emergency restrictions on movement imposed by the Italian government – the Authority says that it is closely monitoring the situation regarding the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that is affecting a large number of countries across the globe.
According to EFSA’s chief scientist, Marta Hugas, experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur.
“At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect,” Hugas said.
At the same time, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has echoed that while animals in China were the likely source of the initial infection, the virus is spreading from person to person – mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale.
Scientists reiterate that transmission through food is unlikely and there is no evidence of this occurring with novel coronavirus to date. However, investigations into how the virus spreads are continuing and there have not been any reports of transmission through food.
Similar to EFSA, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in the United States has said that it is not aware of any reports of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.
“Coronaviruses need a host (animal or human) to grow in and cannot grow in food. Thorough cooking is expected to kill the virus because we know that a heat treatment of at least 30min at 60ºC is effective with SARS,” the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said in a separate statement.
Agencies and authorities have however insisted on the importance of good hygiene and encourage practices and behaviors that can help prevent food handlers from spreading contaminants including viruses to food.
“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 FDA said in one of its statements.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that good hygiene and cleaning are also important to avoid cross contamination between raw or undercooked foods and cooked or ready to eat foods in the kitchen.