COVID-19 is not a food safety hazard – FAO

The virus that causes COVID-19 is not a direct food safety problem, according to updated guidelines from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The document replaces the FAO and World Health Organization (WHO) interim guidance on coronavirus and food safety for food businesses, originally published in April 2020.

The earlier guidelines were criticized by Roger Cook, then president of the International Food Protection Association (IAFP), and others for suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 was a food safety issue.

No confirmation of connection with food or packaging
Current data indicates that neither food nor food packaging is a route for the spread of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food or on surfaces, but can in humans and some animals. Once in the environment, viruses degrade and become less infectious, according to the document.

“It is important to note that, although the detection of viruses or viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) remains on foods and food packaging provides evidence of prior contamination and is not in dispute, there is has no confirmation of SARS-CoV-2, or any other viruses causing respiratory illness, transmitted through food or food packaging and causing illness in people who touch contaminated food products or packaging.

Studies published in journals such as China CDC Weekly have linked cases of illness to the packaging of cold chain products contaminated with the virus.

The guidelines aim to ensure that the integrity of the food chain is maintained and that adequate and safe food supplies are available to consumers by not restricting supply chains with inefficient measures.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been linked to workers at farms and processing facilities for meat, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables, and pet food.

“It remains essential that the food industry and food industry regulatory authorities protect all workers from the person-to-person spread of these viruses by providing a safe working environment, promoting personal hygiene measures and dispensing with training in food hygiene principles, ”said Markus. Lipp, Senior Food Safety Officer.

Business issues and the role of testing
An infected worker can infect co-workers, contaminate food production and processing environments, as well as food or food materials that can lead to trade restrictions, even if there is no food safety hazard.

A number of import and export bans were put in place at different times during the pandemic and China tested imports of food and packaging for SARS-CoV-2 upon entry into the pandemic. the country.

Microbiological environmental sampling has a role in verifying sanitation protocols, but testing for SARS-CoV-2 in processing facilities or on food packaging is expensive, time-consuming and does not help risk-based decision making to consumer protection and is not recommended, the document said.

The virus is sensitive to the most common disinfectants and sanitizers used in the food processing environment. WHO recommends disinfectants containing more than 70 percent alcohol with sufficient contact time for decontamination. Common disinfectants with active ingredients based on quaternary ammonium compounds and chlorine also have virucidal properties.

The general principles of worker protection and guidance for people working in primary production, food processing, transportation and at the retail level such as stores, restaurants and other food outlets are also covered in the guidelines.

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Susan W. Lloyd

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