Food safety and personal hygiene essential to keep people healthy

It is up to each individual to employ safe, hygiene-conscious habits when out shopping, and for the retail sector to have safety measures in place.
It is up to each individual to employ safe, hygiene-conscious habits when out shopping, and for the retail sector to have safety measures in place.
Image: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo

There is no evidence to date that the new coronavirus, which causes Covid-19 can be transmitted by food.

The association of transmission via the wet food market in Wuhan, China, has led to much misinformation about Covid-19 being spread through food. The virus, it needs to be emphasised, is transmitted primarily by people who are infected, coughing and sneezing.

While we do not yet have sufficient information about the virus, scientists can predict its behaviour and characteristics based on data from similar viruses, such as those causing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).

What is critical during this pandemic is the application of sound principles of personal and environmental hygiene, and established food safety practices, to not only guard against anyone dealing with food from contracting the virus, but also to reduce the likelihood of any food-contaminating pathogens, such as salmonella spp., and listeria monocytogenes, threatening the safety of the food supply.

What do we know about coronavirus and food is:

Coronavirus cannot grow on food.

Cooking food to the right temperature 72- 75°C for two minutes is always an excellent way to prevent getting sick. While we have not determined the effect of cooking on this particular virus, others are destroyed at these temperatures.

Consuming raw fruit and vegetables is safe.

Handling food packaging is not a likely cause of Covid-19.

People employed at food processing companies, food retailers and restaurants are critical in the pandemic in keeping food safe.

Food-contaminating pathogens are still major concerns for food safety worldwide. Food can become contaminated with microorganisms that can cause human illness along the entire food chain - ranging from infections in live animals up to consumption.

Food processing plants have stringent hygienic measures in place to support food safety and are enhancing health measures to protect essential staff who come to work every day to keep SA eating.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted several practical guidelines on how to apply best practices to ensure food hygiene, handle meats, and control those viruses that do occur in food. Enhanced food safety practices is essential to guard against the contamination of foods, and the associated public health burden caused by established food-borne infections.

At the individual level we need to employ safe, hygiene-conscious habits when out shopping. Maintain physical distance from other people when selecting food items and ensure there is space between you and the next person when standing in a queue. Keep your hands clean and do not shop if you have any Covid-19 symptoms.

Restaurants and other food outlets are severely disrupted by the pandemic, but it is imperative that they practise good hygiene and keep all staff healthy - from those preparing the food to those delivering it.

This crisis highlights the real importance of food safety again. Good hygiene must be practised at all levels and by the consumer as well as the food industry. Food safety information must be relayed in an easily understandable scientific manner to all in the food chain, from producers to consumers.

The food industry mustensure that an adequate, safe, sufficient and affordable food supply is maintained. Focus on professional personnel is essential to avoid transmission and a labour shortage if employees contract the virus.

- Professor Buys is head of the department of consumer and food sciences at the University of Pretoria. This piece commemorates World Food Safety Day on June 7

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