EFSA Advisory Forum, whose main host is the Croatian authorities, was to be held in Osijek. Due to the current situation of the spread of the virus causing COVID-19 disease, the meeting took place in a virtual form on April 1 and 2, 2020. Below, courtesy of the daily updates of the foodfakty.pl portal, we present an excerpt from an interview conducted by the Croatian agency Euractiv with the director EFSA executive, Bernhard Url.
1. Since there are scientific conclusions on how long coronavirus survives on some surfaces, can food be the potential transmitter of coronavirus? How so?
There is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission. Transmission is linked to the respiratory tract. This means the virus spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
It is true coronavirus can survive on surfaces for a limited time. An infected person can contaminate food by preparing or handling it with dirty hands or via infectious droplets. However, food safety regulations in EU Member States ensure a high level of protection against contaminated food. Still I cannot stress enough the importance of high standards of hygiene, also in our households, when we are preparing food. Hygiene is key, not only to prevent COVID-19, but any foodborne infection.
Additionally, as with other known coronaviruses, this virus is sensitive to cooking temperatures.
2. Which scientific experiments contribute to such conclusion?
Authorities such as the WHO or the US Food and Drug Administration agree that food is not a vehicle for infection in view of the current state of knowledge. Experience from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as SARS and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, also show that transmission through food consumption did not occur. However, we are closely monitoring the scientific literature for any new and relevant information.
3. How come an animal used for food in China was the likely source of the initial infection? Can this pose a risk of food safety in general especially considering the animals we eat, or maybe food and vegetables? How can we be sure that if we eat an animal product we won't get infected by some disease?
There are hypotheses about a food market in Wuhan being the origin of the chain of infection. To my knowledge the actual source of the first human infection has not been identified yet. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in animals and humans. They are one of the main reasons for the common cold which many of us suffer from every year. Until now we have no evidence of a foodborne coronavirus infection of humans. The new SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to follow this pattern, as it affects the respiratory tract.
The EU has strict rules in place guaranteeing a high level of food safety. Biosecurity measures and good hygiene practices, including good personal hygiene practices of food workers, already protect consumers from other possible infections via contaminated food, not just the coronavirus.
We can all take simple precautions such as washing and sanitizing all food contact surfaces and utensils, washing our hands and properly cooking food for example.