Frequently Asked Questions on SARS-CoV-2 and Food Safety
Download a scientific review article by Anelich et al, 2020 on SARS-CoV-2 and Risk to Food Safety
What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large group of viruses that are common in many different species of animals. They cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The common cold is something we are all familiar with – this is often caused by what is termed “common human coronaviruses” of which there are many different strains.
The current virus that was reported on 31 December 2019 for the first time by China, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. It has been given the name SARS-CoV-2 and it causes Covid-19 (coronavirus disease).
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared this outbreak a pandemic.
How does one contract the illness known as Covid-19?
As yet, the original source of the SARS-CoV-2 is not known, even though it has been speculated that bats and pangolins may be involved; however, this link is inconclusive. It is still believed to be zoonotic though (jumped from animal to human).
The primary modes of transmission of infection are:
- From person-to-person (close contact….touching, shaking hands etc),
- Via droplets spread by coughing and sneezing, which may be aerosolised. This is a particular problem where there is poor ventilation or lack of fresh air entering a room.
There is mounting evidence that becoming infected from contaminated surfaces (also known as fomites), is unlikely. The Center for Diseases Control and Prevention in the USA has more recently (05 April, 2021) made this clear. Frequently touched (high-touch) surfaces, for example in a food manufacturing environment, require more attention.
Transmission can happen at the workplace, in health care centres, hospitals, in a home, on buses, taxis, trains, practically anywhere. Frequently touched surfaces include public handrails, lift buttons, money, shopping trolley handles etc. Wash hands well (for at least 20 seconds) after being out in public. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer gel with at least 60 % alcohol (70% alcohol according to South African regulations and standards) to disinfect hands. These measures are just basic good hygiene practices, which are excellent ways on any day, of preventing transmission of any bacterium or virus that could cause harm.
Can the virus (SARS-CoV-2) be transmitted through food?
There is no credible evidence to suggest that the virus is transmitted through food, food packaging or food ingredients. Anelich Consulting has been very active in this field providing clients with views and important advice based on scientific evidence as well as making several presentations at different events, nationally and internationally. The following resources are available:
- A review article written by Prof Lucia and 3 co-authors called “SARS-CoV-2 and Risk to Food Safety” published by Frontiers on 02 November 2020. It has been welcomed widely, including by the United Nations (FAO).
- Anelich, Lues, Farber, Parreira wrote an article for the Food Safety Magazine discussing food packaging and SARS-CoV-2, based on risk – published in December 2020.
- Prof Lucia presented a paper on this same topic at the Dubai Food Safety Conference on 30 November 2020. The recording can be viewed at the top- right of this page.
- Prof Lucia participated in a discussion forum on “Frozen Food and the Threat of SARS-CoV-2” hosted by Affidia Journal. The recording of the entire event can be viewed at the top-right of this page.
- Anelich, Lues, Farber and Parreira wrote an article for The Conversation Africa discussing coronavirus and food safety – published on 15 February 2021.
- Prof Lucia spoke at the National Science and Technology Forum on 26 February 2021 on “SARS-CoV-2: Does It Cause Foodborne Disease?”. The recording can be viewed at the top-right of this page.
- Prof Lucia has presented on this topic to Food Science students at the University of Wageningen in The Netherlands, rated as the best Food Science Department in the world.
Good personal behaviour around food must be practiced by everyone, even at home, at all times, regardless of the pandemic i.e. not sneezing or coughing over food, washing hands with soap for the required 20 seconds and more….these are practices that the food industry has been implementing for decades under “normal” circumstances.
Can this Coronavirus live on surfaces?
Viruses cannot grow or multiply outside their host but in many cases, they can survive on surfaces for different periods of time depending on temperature, humidity, the type of surface and other factors. However, transmission from such surfaces in normal settings (outside of health care settings where there are active coronavirus cases), cannot be linked. It was initially thought that surfaces played a very large role in the transmission of the virus. We now know that that is not the case. Surface transmission is important in health care settings and where there are frequently touched surfaces. Other than that, surface transmission is negligible. Therefore, deep cleaning and fogging rooms are unnecessary and add unnecessary costs. Cleaning with soap and water is good enough, especially in the home. Person-to-person transmission remains the most important route of infection.
How can I protect myself?
Below is a list of measures (list is not exhaustive) one can take to prevent contracting or spreading the virus to others.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or one’s sleeve.
- Do not hug, kiss, shake hands with other people; fist, elbow, foot bumps are preferable.
- Throw any used tissues into the bin immediately and wash hands (see next point).
- Wash hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (as has always been touted in the food industry). Do this regularly, but especially after getting home from public areas and before preparing/eating food and after using tissues to blow one’s nose or to cough into (see “Safe Grocery Shopping” on this website).
- Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol (70% alcohol in South Africa) to be effective. Note: If hands are exceptionally dirty or greasy, hand sanitizer alone will not work. Hands need to be washed with soap and water first and then sanitized, if needed.
- Avoid contact with people who are showing flu-like symptoms, in particular fever and coughing – keep at least a distance of 1.5 metres (preferably 2 metres) from another person.
- Wear masks in public (required by law in South Africa); makes sure it covers BOTH your mouth AND nose!
- Do not touch your face, eyes, nose, mouth with unwashed hands.
In summary, four important behaviours go a very long way to protect one from contracting or spreading the virus:
- Practice proper hand hygiene as explained above.
- Keep a social distance of at least 1.5 metres, preferably 2 metres.
- Wear a mask in public that covers BOTH the mouth AND nose, even if you are vaccinated.
- Avoid crowds and large numbers of people, especially in a closed environment. These can become super-spreader events.
It is vital that masks do not create a false sense of security. Wearing masks is an additional measure in the fight against transmission of the virus, not a replacement for hand washing and social distancing. The World Health Organization has provided advice on masks and is well worth reading.
Are there any disinfectants that work against SARS-CoV-2?
For the food industry, several agencies provide lists of disinfectants that are effective against SARS-CoV-2:
- Environmental Protection Agency – list “N”;
- European Union;
- Health Canada;
- NRCS lists what is registered for use in South Africa.
For home use:
- Household bleach at 0.1% concentration for 1 minute contact time (this can be increased to 0.5% concentration);
- Hydrogen peroxide at 0.5% concentration for 1 minute contact time;
- 70% alcohol for 1 minute contact time.
NOTE: This virus can be overcome, provided that we all work together and take responsibility for our actions. Follow hygienic behaviour, wear a mask in public, practice social distancing, get vaccinated and stay away from large gatherings of people. Arm yourselves with the right information. Fact check information before sending it on – it may very well be fake news.
Prof Lucia Anelich spoke on “SARS-CoV-2: Does it cause foodborne disease?” at an event organised by the National Science and Technology Forum in South Africa on 26 February 2021.
Prof Lucia Anelich spoke on “SARS-CoV-2: Is It a Risk to Food Safety?” at the webinar presented by Affidia Journal on 05 February 2021.
Recording of presentation offered at the Dubai Food Safety Conference, 30 November 2020 on “SARS-CoV-2 and Risk to Food Safety”. Key is that she addresses recent Chinese policy that the virus can be transmitted via frozen food packaging.
Watch webinar below presented by Prof Lucia Anelich on 30 March-02 April 2020 on “SARS-CoV-2: Is it a food safety risk?”