Lesson 10: summary
Although it is likely that the first infection by COVID-19 has its origin in the consumption of animal meat, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that there is no evidence of any case of transmission of the virus through food.
However, laboratory studies have corroborated that COVID-19 has the ability to live outside a host for a period of time ranging from a few hours to several days.
Faced with these apparent contradictions, we can only wait for science to bring light and certainty to these questions. In the meantime, we must emphasize preventive measures in food safety and hygiene.
Measures related to workers and their environment:
- Be able to identify the symptoms of the infection by COVID-19.
- Respect personal hygiene precautions, such as frequent hand washing.
- Always use personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, appropriate footwear, etc).
- Keep the minimum safety social distance (at least 1 meter).
Food related measures:
Take special care with unpackaged food, such as frequent disinfection of utensils and surfaces that come into direct or indirect contact with food.
Leave the food (not refrigerated) that has just arrived outdoors for several hours when possible.
Dispose of disposable food packaging such as cartons or bags as soon as possible.
Clean and disinfect those foods whose packaging is essential.
Lesson 10: extended
COVID-19 preventive measures
Can the coronavirus disease spread through food?
It is a common misconception that since the origin of the first human infection with COVID-19 is probably of animal origin, then food consumption may be a source of transmission of the virus.
Clarifying this belief, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that according to different studies on the transmission of COVID-19 and other previous coronaviruses, in no case has there been any evidence of propagation through food.
In a recent statement, WHO also reported that there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted by contact with a contaminated artificial surface. Thus, it appears that physical contact between people and their respiratory waste is the only means of transmission of COVID-19.
However, laboratory tests carried out in the first months of the health crisis confirmed that COVID-19 has the ability to survive outside a human host for a time interval ranging from a few hours to several days. Similarly, it seems scientifically proven that the coronavirus COVID-19 is largely stable at a refrigerator temperature (4ºC), since under these conditions it can survive for up to two weeks.
Therefore, which investigations do we abide by? The apparent contradictions are just the consequence of a complex pandemic from which we still have many aspects to learn. It is still too early to determine with complete certainty what the routes of transmission are. Thus, the most prudent thing to do is to emphasize prevention measures while waiting for science to unequivocally clear up these questions.
In the meantime, we already have certain prevention measures to be carried out in order to reduce the probabilities of transmission.
Measures applicable to workers and their environment
As food handlers, we play a very important role in the event of a possible transmission of COVID-19. That is why we must be disciplined when setting working habits that combine the following measures:
- Know and identify the symptomatology of the COVID-19 infection. We must warn the company as soon as possible in case of infection or suspicion, always through electronic means (telephone or email), and providing reliable information in the initial stages of the infection in order to be removed from the workplace as soon as possible.
- Extreme personal hygiene precautions. Wash hands frequently and for a minimum of 20 seconds (with water and soap and, if possible, also with disinfectant gel). Emphasize hand washing after using the toilet, even though there is no evidence of any fecal-oral transmission of the virus.
- When coughing or sneezing, use a disposable paper, which should be discarded after use, and wash your hands.
- Disinfect work surfaces frequently, as well as common contact objects (door knobs, appliances, buttons, utensils, etc).
- Always use personal protective equipment (such as masks, gloves, hairnets, specific footwear, etc.) Regarding the use of gloves, they should be changed frequently and hands should be washed after use and before putting on a new pair. Gloves should also be changed after contact with anything other than food (boxes, doors, windows, telephone, wastebaskets, etc.). We should not touch our mouth or eyes by wearing gloves.
- Keep the minimum safety distance (of at least 1 meter), or ask the company for distance measures if this is not possible. Where it is not possible to maintain the safety distance between employees, the company shall protect its employees by providing other measures of the same effectiveness.
- Carry out courses with updated training on COVID-19 regarding food prevention measures and in order not to contaminate or reduce the risk of contamination of food or its packaging during the handling process.
- Extract information from reliable official sources: preferably information from national or international governmental authorities and organizations and from high impact scientific studies In any case, avoid journalistic sources that tend to disseminate hoaxes. We must contrast all the information with official and scientific sources before drawing hasty conclusions and, much less, before spreading hoaxes on the Internet and social networks.
Measures applicable to food
Just as we take extreme precautions with regard to ourselves and our environment, we must also establish a set of preventive measures in relation to food itself:
- Take special care with unpacked food. In cases such as salad bars, fresh food displays and bakery and confectionery foods, in addition to the general prevention measures outlined above, it is recommended:
- Disinfect frequently those utensils and surfaces that are in direct or indirect contact with food, as well as self-service utensils used by customers.
- Replace the gloves before and after touching the food.
- Make water-alcoholic gel available to customers in a well-marked and visible place, both at the entrance and exit of the premises.
- Wrap in plastic, paper or cellophane all bakery and confectionery foods.
- Bulk food should always be displayed under Plexiglas cabinets, and bags and utensils should be available for customers to serve themselves.
- Leave the food (not refrigerated) that has just arrived outdoors for several hours.
- Dispose of disposable food packaging, such as cartons or bags, as soon as possible and place the contents of the discarded packaging in other safe packaging that has been disinfected.
- Clean and disinfect those foods whose packaging is essential.
- Choosing nearby and trusted food providers. The smaller the chain of intermediaries and transport, the lower the exposure to the virus.
- Be wary of suppliers who do not guarantee the safety of COVID-19 in their food production and transport processes.
- Preferring that customers make payments by card or other electronic methods When this is not possible, it is advisable to use disinfectant gel after contact with money.
Note about the author: This lesson has been carried out by José Liétor Gallego, Doctor (PhD) in Biology - University of Jaén (Spain), exclusively for our food handler course.