Is The Risk Of Getting Covid More If You Are Handling Fresh Food Items or Packaged Foods?

There is not a whole lot of reason to worry about contracting Covid from food. According to experts, there is no concrete evidence to show that one can get COVID-19 via food, whether it is freshly prepared food or frozen food or even vegetables and fruits.(1) It is also unlikely for people to catch COVID-19 through packaged food.

The CDC advises against wiping the plastic or cardboard packaging of food items with sanitizers or disinfectants, as these can contaminate the food they contain.

When it comes to fresh foods, such as vegetables and fruits, the guidelines remain the same, to wash them thoroughly before cooking or eating them.

We are now over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are still in a state of concern when it comes to eating outside in restaurants, as it means sitting in close proximity with others or going for grocery shopping and having to come in contact with common spaces and other individuals. This is the reason why malls and grocery stores strongly reinforce wearing masks and have specific floor markings for people to stand 6 feet apart along with hand sanitizers being made available.

One thing can be said for sure is that the food in itself is not a cause for concern when it comes to developing covid. According to experts once you get your food and other grocery items safely back into your car, it can be safely said that you are in the clear.

Food & the Origin of the New Coronavirus

The SARS-CoV-2 being the new Coronavirus is widespread and for this reason it is difficult to exactly say for sure where certain Covid cases are coming from. However, according to primary health agencies there haven’t been any covid cases that are directly related to food delivery or grocery shopping.

According to CDC, the risk of contracting COVID-19 from handling or eating food is pretty low with no cases so far showing they contracted the virus from handling packaged food.(2)

Is The Risk Of Getting Covid More If You Are Handling Fresh Food Items?

According to The World Health Organization and CDC, there’s no evidence as such of getting COVID-19 from handling any type of fresh food items, such as vegetables and fruits (1). Also, it is important to mention here there is also no evidence that any type of probiotics, herbal teas and home remedies, such as consumption of garlic or ginger, can prevent you from getting COVID-19.

As the initial cases of COVID-19 were linked with fresh seafood and this is the reason why some people can stay skeptical of specific foods, more so as some studies suggested that the corona virus can stay alive on fresh salmon for up to seven days.(3)

So, it is better to follow the basic food safety measures along with personal safety measures, like cooking the meat at the right temperature and till the right temperature.
There have been reported COVID-19 outbreaks in the poultry and meat processing industries, but the cause was attributed to the working environment, such as working in close proximation with other co-workers for hours along with shared commute and living in crowded housing.(4)

How to Wash Your Food Items?

It is always important to wash fresh food produce thoroughly before eating or cooking them. However, the CDC strongly advices against using alcohol, soap, sanitizers or bleach for the cleaning any food items.(2) The best way to wash fruits or vegetables or any other food produce is to use tap water and a clean brush if needed. You can also soak them in a vinegar and water solution and scrub them using a clean brush.

What Is The Risk Of Contracting Covid-19 From Packaged Food?

According to experts the risk or chances or contracting the covid virus from packaged food is low; however, the human behavior plays a major role in spreading of the corona virus. The COVID-19 virus primarily spreads from one person-to- another via respiratory droplets after someone sneezes, talks or coughs. If a covid infected person touches an object or surface including food packaging or any food items and transfers the virus on it, and if someone else then touches those surfaces and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth; then it is possible to get COVID-19.

What Are The Risks Of Getting Covid With In-Person Dining?

The risk of getting covid depends on face-to-face contact at the restaurant you are eating your food.

As the cause of transmission of corona virus has been clearly established by now, which is transmission of the virus from person to person through respiratory droplets. This human-to-human transmission is the reason why nightclubs, bars, and in-person dining has shut down as soon as the intensity of the pandemic was fully known. Slowly, as the covid situation is improving and the cases are reducing, cities like San Francisco and New York have started to open their outdoor dining while keeping the tables apart at a safe distance with mandatory wearing of masks by the servers, chefs and patrons. Outdoor eating is thought to be safer than eating indoors, as there is better airflow outdoors.

Along with the resumption of the dining in restaurants, public health officials and physicians are going to monitor them for any potential covid outbreaks. Other than this, most of the restaurants are following strict sanitization measures, which along with limited seating capacity, will help in preventing the transmission of corona virus.

NOTE: The important thing to remember is the food itself does not cause you to catch the corona virus, but the interactions with people are the main concern and cause for contracting and spreading of covid-19.

The risk of going to a grocery store to purchase fresh foods or prepackaged foods is more or less the same as dining out in a restaurant as in both these places you are out there at a place where you are interacting with other people. Wearing a mask, using sanitizers and maintaining a safe distance from others helps a lot in cutting down the risk of contracting COVID-19 when eating at restaurants and when going grocery shopping.

However, the best way to eat outside food is to get it delivered to your home or to get the food to-go; this way you can eat outside food peacefully without the fear or the risk of getting covid. There are many delivery services these days where you can pay online and cut down on the time spent face-to-face with others.

As there’s no concrete evidence that you can get COVID-19 through food packaging or the food itself, one shouldn’t worry about the safety regarding the food made in the plants, as long as the basic safety measures for food handling are followed.

Covid Safety Measures When Cooking In Your Kitchen

This pandemic has seen many novice cooks start to cook at their homes due to the shutting down of the business etc. and trying their hand at making difficult meals at home; however, not many are aware of the way to safely prepare food for preventing food borne diseases. New cooks do not realize the threat of food borne illnesses when cooking meat-based dishes.(5) Some of the illnesses that can occur as a result of contaminated food are: abdominal pain, diarrhea, muscle pain, vomiting, fever and fatigue.(5)

This covid pandemic has made us view everything in life and deal with everything in life differently and this includes our approach to food and its preparation. People who used to rely on outside food or eating quick meals at their workplace are now having to learn to cook their own meals at home.

This pandemic is also giving people time to experiment in the kitchen with new recipes for new dishes. This lockdown has brought families living together and cooking meals together and spending more time at home naturally.

Cooking new recipes is exciting no doubt about it, but one should be aware of the food borne illnesses as a serious concern, particularly when you are cooking meat-based dishes.

What are Food Borne Illnesses?

Food borne illnesses are illness occurring from eating contaminated food. According to CDC, food borne illnesses are responsible for causing sickness in about 48 million people and hospitalization of about 128,000 people and death of about 3,000 people in America every year.(5)

Around 250 food borne illnesses are known; some of which occur as a result of toxins and chemicals, which contaminate the food items. However, many food borne illnesses are caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses present in the food.

Some of the common organisms responsible for causing food borne illnesses are: Salmonella, norovirus, Clostridium perfringens, Staphylococcus aureus and Campylobacter. Some of the common symptoms of food borne illnesses are: pain in the abdomen, diarrhea, muscle pain, vomiting, fever and fatigue.

How to Protect Yourself from Food Borne Illnesses?

It is important to clean you food items thoroughly that you are about to cook; this is the first and foremost step in preventing any food borne illnesses. Always wash your hands before food preparation using soap and water.

Then you have to make sure the utensils in which you are cleaning the food and cooking the food are clean as well. The surface where you are prepping your food should be clean as well.

Always separate our food items, as this will help in preventing cross-contamination. Naturally occurring bacteria is present in poultry and meat products and this is why it’s important to avoid any staining of meat juices to a cutting board, which you will be using for something else. Different utensils should be used for cooking different dishes. The meat dishes should be cooked at a safe internal temperature. You can check it with a food thermometer to confirm if meat is satisfactorily cooked or not. The color of the meat can be misleading; it can still be raw even if it looks fully cooked and will be unsafe for consumption.

Another thing to bear in mind is to refrigerate or freeze your meat and poultry items, as soon as you have reached home. Do not keep them outside exposed. Also, it is important to chill meat leftovers within 2 hours of them being cooked.

As mentioned before, there is no proof that COVID-19 is getting spread by any food packaging or food item. However, this does not mean that you should stop washing your hands before touching any outside food or packages.

Another thing is to keep your kitchen always clean for both COVID-19 safety as well as to prevent any food borne illnesses. Always disinfect the handles of cabinets, refrigerator, counter tops, shelves, and any surface that your food can come in contact with.

NOTE: Always keeps an eye on the news regarding food recalls for your safety.

Look Out For Food Allergies

Due to this pandemic, more people are staying at their homes and cooking meals at their home; however, it is important to be mindful of dietary concerns of people you live with. You need to find out if your family member or roommate has any type of allergies, such as gluten allergy or peanut allergy before you cook for them.

It is better to make a list of foods, which has allergens in them that your family member is susceptible to and be mindful of them when preparing food at home. It is also important to get a definitive diagnosis from an allergist and start on a management plan, as living with food allergies can be quite challenging.

With some simple dietary changes, one can successfully manage food allergy without having to sacrifice on taste or nutrition. This is the best time to look try plant-based foods, as they do not carry the risks of having bacteria present as with animal-based foods.

Experimenting with Food in Pandemic

If you are a beginner, then it is best to stick to simple recipes, which you can easily make at home. Another good idea would be to start with plant based foods and avoid meat, eggs and poultry as these are the primary sources for food borne contaminants. It is also a good idea to keep a check on your expectations and not expect to make Michelin star dishes at home. Starting with easy and manageable meals is best. You can slowly move to experimenting more difficult recipes as your confidence in your culinary skills increases.

Conclusion

As mentioned before, there is no proof that COVID-19 is getting spread by any food packaging or food item. However, this does not mean that you should stop washing your hands before touching anything outside food or parcels.

Always keep your kitchen clean for both COVID-19 safety, as well as to prevent any food related illnesses by disinfecting the handles of cabinets, refrigerator, counter tops, shelves, and any surface that your food comes in contact with.

The corona virus spreads through respiratory droplets of an infected person when he/she coughs, talks or sneezes. The food itself when you are eating outside is not responsible for contracting covid, but your interactions with other human beings is.

References:

Also Read: