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Coronavirus (COVID-19) The Fast Facts for Our Food Industry

The Virus

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually cause respiratory illness. They include viruses that cause the common cold and seasonal flu, as well as more serious illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

COVID-19 is a new strain that has not previously been identified in humans and was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

What are the symptoms?

Signs of infection include high fever (>38ºC) together with one or more respiratory symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Severe symptoms include pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure.

Can the virus be passed on through food?

Experience with SARS and MERS suggest that people are not infected with the virus through food. So, it is unlikely the virus is passed on through food and there is no evidence yet of this happening with COVID-19 (coronavirus) to date. Coronaviruses need a host (animal or human) to grow in and cannot grow in food. Thorough cooking is expected to kill the virus because we know that a heat treatment of at least 30min at 60ºC is effective with SARS.

How is COVID-19 passed on?

Coronaviruses are most commonly passed between animals and people and from person to person. The source of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is believed to be animals, but the exact source is not yet known.

The virus is commonly passed on :-

  • directly, through contact with an infected person's body fluids (for example, droplets from coughing or sneezing)

  • indirectly, through contact with surfaces that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on

  • Current information suggests that the virus may survive a few hours on surfaces. Simple household disinfectants can kill it.

  • Investigations in China are continuing to identify the source of the outbreak and ways it can be passed on to people.

What can food workers do?

It is possible that infected food workers could introduce virus to the food they are working on by coughing and sneezing, or through hand contact, unless they strictly follow good personal hygiene practices.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that standard recommendations to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are maintained.

These include:

  • proper hand hygiene

  • cough/cold hygiene practices

  • safe food practices

  • avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing

Food workers must wash hands:

before starting work

before handling cooked or ready-to-eat food

after handling or preparing raw food

after handling waste

after cleaning duties

after using the toilet

after blowing nose, sneezing or coughing

after eating drinking or smoking

after handling money

Good hygiene and cleaning are also important to avoid cross contamination between raw or undercooked foods and cooked or ready to eat foods in the kitchen.

What can food businesses can do?

There is no need for employees without symptoms of infection with COVID-19 to stay off work or to remain separate from other people.

However, food businesses have particular responsibilities under food law and have an important role to play in preventing foodborne illness. They should:

  • ensure that staff are aware of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation

  • ensure that staff are trained appropriately in food hygiene

  • ensure effective supervision of staff to reinforce hygienic practices

  • provide the correct facilities e.g. hand washing, toilets, to enable staff to practice good hygiene

  • ensure staff and contractors report any physical signs/symptoms, before commencing work or while in the workplace.

  • keep vigilant and ensure that staff are not ill and are fit to work

Further Information

Image: CDC

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