Food safety during the coronavirus pandemic

Nikos Papaspanos

As COVID-19/Coronavirus is spreading through Europe and the world, there is a rising anxiety regarding its spread by food. Thankfully, there is no evidence (at the moment) that food is a source or transmission route of covid-19. So, good hygiene practices remain the best means of avoiding this infection, as well. And that was recently published by the European Food Safety Authority.

Previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, show that transmission through food consumption did not occur. So at the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that covid-19 is any different in this respect.

Authorities around the world are monitoring the spread of covid-19 and there has not been any reports of transmission through food.

Despite the fact that animals in China were the likely source of the initial infection, the virus is now spreading from person to person, mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale.

General everyday hygiene rules, such as regular hand washing, and hygiene rules for food preparation is the best strategy.

So, let’s refresh the basic everyday hygiene rules regarding food preparation!

How pathogens can be found in the kitchen:

Through:

  • Raw food, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables and herbs
  • People, especially those with infectious diseases
  • Pets, rodents and insects

How can I avoid a possible contamination of food with pathogens?

At first, avoid the cross-contamination of food with pathogens, i.e. the transfer of microorganisms from (usually raw) food to other food. The microorganisms may be transferred directly from one food to another if these foods come into contact with one another unpackaged.

Cross-contamination can be prevented by means of the following measures:

  • Never use the same kitchen utensils for handling raw and cooked foods
  • Use one chopping board for cutting meat and poultry and a different one for fruit and vegetables
  • Do not cut cooked or heated foods on chopping boards which raw food was cut on beforehand, unless the chopping board has been thoroughly cleaned
  • Wash hands immediately after contact with raw food

Secondly, avoid indirect transfer via hands, kitchen equipment, work surfaces, knives or other kitchen utensils. Protection against cross-contamination should extend throughout the entire food chain, i.e. from purchasing, through storage and transport, all the way to preparation in households. So, be sure you appropriately wash your hands before any food processes.

Contamination of food during preparation can be avoided as follows:

  • Keep pets away from foods and do not stroke them during food preparation
  • Before starting food preparation, attend to personal hygiene (clean clothes, clean hands and fingernails, hair tied back if necessary and remove any hand jewellery)
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and hair
  • If possible, prepare food with clean utensils rather than with your hands

Other key-points:

  • Make sure food is thoroughly cooked. You don’t have to burn your food, of course, just be sure that there are no temperature errors that enable pathogens to survive and propagate in food
  • Adequately cool down during storage
  • Adequately heat during food preparation and reheating of prepared meals
  • Avoid keeping food warm for long periods at too low temperatures and cooling heated food too slowly
  • Avoid eating raw food of animal origin, unless they are completely heated before consumption, like:
    • steak tartare,
    • raw meat cuts such as carpaccio,
    • raw sausage products,
    • raw spreadable animal products
    • foods containing raw egg like mayonnaise,
    • unpasteurised milk and cheese, raw fish or seafood (like raw oysters and sushi),
    • smoked salmon and gravlax

This way you can protect yourself, your families and friends from illness through the hygienic handling of food.

Tips in summary

Basically, keep general everyday hygiene rules, such as:

  • regular hand washing and
  • hygiene rules for food preparation

*Nikos Papaspanos and Anthi Naoumi are registered dietitian nutritionists at DIETTIPS Diet & Nutrition Center in Thessaloniki. 

Guest Blogger

This piece was written for GCT by a guest blogger.