Experts Affirm: Coronavirus ‘highly unlikely’ food risk

An international group of scientists has declared that it is highly unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 is a food safety risk.The International Commission for Microbiological Specifications of Foods (ICMSF) is a non-governmental organization and represents top food safety experts from around the globe. The ICMSF members believe it is highly unlikely that ingestion of SARS-CoV-2 will result in illness because there is no documented evidence that food is a significant source and/or vehicle for transmission. It is vital that one differentiates a hazard from a risk, i.e., the presence of an infectious agent on food does not necessarily mean an infection will occur, said the experts.

ICMSF experts said SARS-CoV-2 should not be considered a food safety hazard since such a hazard enters the human body with food via the gastrointestinal tract, where it can infect organs and tissues elsewhere in the body. Scientists gave an example of the hepatitis A virus, which enters the bloodstream and causes foodborne disease, ultimately establishing infection in the liver.

Despite the billions of meals consumed and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or transmission route for the virus. While there are a few reports of SARS-CoV-2 virus being found on food packaging materials, the virus cannot multiply in foods and does not make a person sick if they eat the virus. The virus is infectious if inhaled or breathed in.  Hand washing continues to be an excellent and proven defense against the virus.

ICMSF said SARS-CoV-2 is an occupational hazard that may affect the health of employees and their ability to work. The focus for food businesses should be on protecting workers, consumers and restaurant patrons from being infected by person-to-person spread.

In food businesses, effective measures can best be built upon and integrated into the good hygienic practices and food safety management system  that firms may already have to ensure hygiene in operations and consumer safety of products produced, handled and manufactured.

Published on September 16, 2020