American scientists have conducted a study on the length of time coronavirus can survive on different surfaces. The investigation is awaiting peer review in The New England Journal of Medicine. They found that the virus can live on plastic and metal for days and in the air for several hours, but what about on food?
Can you get coronavirus from food?
Certain types of food can indeed be a carrier of the contagious respiratory illness, known as COVID-19.
In the UK, all cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants have been ordered to close though some have been allowed to remain open for takeway food.
In the event of a lockdown, it’s likely the only shops open for “essential items” will be pharmacies and supermarkets.
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Despite coronavirus not being a foodborne illness, supermarkets can be a place where the virus can spread if people don’t take precautions.
Dr Jack Caravanos is a clinical professor at New York University’s School of Global Public Health.
Speaking to Vice News, he said: “Moist, semi-solid foods are a wonderful medium for microbes and can boost the longevity of the virus.
“It’s as good of an environment for the virus as your mouth.”
Currently, no documented cases of the coronavirus have been transmitted through food, according to Dorothy Tovar.
The PhD candidate in Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University told Vice News: “We’re still learning a lot about the transmission of this virus, but it’s not a foodborne illness similar to salmonella or hepatitis A or other things we’re a bit more familiar with.
“But it’s definitely possible that if you had a salad prepared by someone who was sick and didn’t wash their hands, the virus may be transmitted through food in that way.”
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Basic tips you can follow include avoiding uncooked and open-air meals, like from a food truck or buffet.
You should not use unfamiliar utensils, fruit and vegetables should be washed before use.
You should cook food at a minimum of 60C to neutralise the virus and buy packaged foods when possible.
Deli meats, produce, and open-air meals are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because, according to Dr Caravanos, the virus can last up to five days on these products.
Coronavirus can also be a threat to humans if it finds it’s on everyday metals and plastic items, such as forks, spoons, and knives because it can survive up to 72 hours on these surfaces.
Dr Caravanos said that the virus can survive on glass surfaces for up to 48 hours.
Ms Tovar said: “The danger here is really from potentially infected people handling shared utensils, and then you getting your own food and not washing your hands afterwards.
“Going on to touch your mouth, nose or eyes afterwards guarantees transmission.”
Another potential place where the coronavirus may have longevity is on foods with tougher, sometimes disposable exteriors, such as bananas and other fruits and vegetables.
On these surfaces, Dr Caravanos said the virus can last up to four days.
He said: “If someone coughs on an apple at the [US supermarket] Trader Joe’s and you touch it, chances are you’re going to get it on your fingers and may infect yourself.
“Eating it is going to be risky unless you thoroughly wash it.”
Cooked meals and meats are not thought to be nearly as vulnerable to coronavirus infection.
UV radiators regularly used by restaurants have been effective at killing surface viruses, which has partly led to scientists investigating whether UV rays from the sun can eradicate COVID-19 microbes.
But Dr Caravanos said even if a restaurant cooks your food, it’s still vulnerable during the delivery process.
The bags and boxes that food comes in can still be a decent host for the virus.
He said if you’re ordering a takeaway “you’re still slightly exposing yourself to like other people who may or may not be infected”.
Dr Caravanos recommends pre-packaged food as a safer option for those choosing to prepare their own meals.
He said: “I know it’s not ecological or green, but tomatoes that are wrapped and apples and packages and bags of onions always will offer that extra level of protection.
“Salad in a bag at this time is probably a better bet than an exposed head of lettuce. It’s all about sanitation.”
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