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How to follow good food safety practices during the Coronavirus pandemic

FSS's Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Norval Strachan
FSS's Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Norval Strachan

How often do you think about food?  

For some, the answer would be - “All the time!”, but on World Food Safety Day, and especially in these unprecedented times, the terms ‘food’ and ‘safety’ take on new relevance.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has drastically changed the way we all live our lives over recent months, and it has also placed new scrutiny on the way we source, prepare, share and consume food in all its shapes and sizes.

Thankfully, there is currently no evidence that food is a source of COVID-19 and it is highly unlikely that it can be transmitted through the consumption of food, according to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). Therefore you are very unlikely to catch COVID-19 from food.

We have produced a Q&A to help you deal with any changes to the food supply chain that have occurred as a result of COVID-19.  

One of our biggest concerns, regarding food safety, is the risk of food poisoning.  Thankfully, there’s a lot we can do to protect ourselves and those we care for, but it’s important to understand a bit more about what exactly causes food poisoning, particularly as some of us are cooking more than usual at the moment.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that my main research interest over the past 15 years has been trying to understand how people become ill from infectious diseases, mainly the ones that cause food poisoning, and my main focus is on gastrointestinal bacteria such as E. coli O157, campylobacter, salmonella, and listeria.  

Most people don’t refer to scientific names when they’re talking about food poisoning; they would simply say they have food poisoning or that they’ve got a stomach bug.

But there are big differences in the kinds of food poisoning you can get, and some of these can be extremely serious, especially to older or very young people, or those with weakened immune systems.  In some cases, food poisoning can mean you end up in hospital and can even be fatal.

Based on what we know about similar viruses, the COVID-19 virus would be inactivated through thorough cooking and the disinfection of food preparation surfaces using appropriate methods.

Remember the below advice and pass it on to those around you, particularly those who are shielded or vulnerable, and therefore at greater risk of serious food poisoning:

  • Wash hands thoroughly throughout the preparation of food, particularly after coughing or sneezing, going to the toilet, and before eating and drinking
  • Hand sanitiser gels can be used in addition to hand washing, but they only work on clean hands. They should never be used as a substitute to hand washing
  • Hygienic handling of food is important to prevent the transmission of any bacterial or viral infection – not just COVID-19.

A key pillar of this year’s World Food Safety Day is “Food safety, everyone’s business”, which promotes global food safety awareness and highlights food safety is a shared responsibility.  

Everybody across the food chain has a role to play to ensure the food we consume is safe and will not cause damage to our health.

It is very fortunate that we are living in the current century, with the knowledge and understanding we now have of infectious diseases, so that the governments are well placed to make informed decisions based on the evidence.

Food Standards Scotland continues to lead the way in making sure that an evidence-based approach to food safety is taken in Scotland

So, when we do think about food, we can know that it is always safe and trusted. 

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