The spread of coronavirus around the world has sharply highlighted the essential need for impeccable hygiene standards throughout the community.
In a statement earlier this month, the European Food Safety Authority said there is no evidence currently that food itself is a transmission source for COVID-19.
But the people who handle food and maintain food safety standards are susceptible to the illness, so it’s prudent the sector understands the risks and how it can contribute to fighting this pandemic.
Understanding the COVID-19 virus
The virus – known as COVID-19 – is a respiratory illness that’s transmitted from person to person through coughing, sneezing or through making contact with hands.
To fight the illness, governments, communities and workplaces around the world have brought in strict guidelines for raising hygiene standards, trying to “flatten the curve” of cases so health systems can cope with any influx.
For those employed in workplaces where food safety and food handling is at the fore, the coronavirus is an important reminder of the importance of maintaining the industry’s already stringent cleanliness standards.
Indeed the sector is on the front line of fighting the virus, with its dedication to hygiene an important barrier.
Here are three ways safe food handling can help slow down COVID-19’s spread.
1. Washing hands regularly
The World Health Organization says COVID-19 mainly enters the human body through droplets that are absorbed by the eyes, mouth and nose.
One of the main ways coronavirus doe this is through contact by the hands, whether from touching someone else who has the virus or a surface where it’s present.
To prevent this from happening, the WHO recommends that people wash their hands regularly with soap and water or another form of hand sanitiser. Washing your hands properly takes about as long as singing “Happy Birthday” twice.
It’s also recommended that people refrain from shaking hands, and keep at least one metre away from each other wherever possible.
For the food handling and food safety sector, this advice reinforces the regular hand washing protocols already in place.
Those who handle food like seafood and poultry are dedicated to strict cleanliness to protect the population from harmful bacteria like salmonella.
With coronavirus now present, the risk can be reduced through increasing the rate at which hands are cleaned in the workplace and food safety supervisors maintaining rigorous standards of hygiene.
The use of disposable plastic gloves and the regular washing and disinfecting of any food preparation utensils workers may use, such as spoons and spatulas can also augment these important hygiene efforts.
2. Wiping down food preparations surfaces (sanitising & disinfecting)
The spread of COVID-19 has kicked off an international effort to create a vaccine, with the viruses DNA already sequenced by researchers.
This effort is aimed at understanding the illness so it can be prevented, though it’s early days so far.
The WHO says while it’s not certain exactly how long COVID-19 can linger on surfaces it attaches to, it’s through to be able to survive for a few hours or even a few days.
This means it’s absolutely vital to ensure any work surfaces where food is handled are wiped down with high-grade disinfectants as often as possible, in line with already strong industry standards.
For those workers involved in food preparation like restaurants and cafes, this is an important kill step that reassures customers that cleanliness is being maintained and also protects each other from any possible infection.
Hygiene standards can also be boosted by regularly disinfecting the equipment used for cleaning work surfaces, such as cloths and towels, and food preparation appliances like stovetops, ovens and microwaves are regularly cleaned.
If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common, approved household disinfectants should be effective.
Diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.
3. Ensuring food is properly cooked and stored
Finally, those involved in food handling must ensure they adhere to strict standards of cooking and storage.
This means any meat products should be cooked to recommended safe temperatures while salads and vegetables must be thoroughly washed.
All measures to avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked ingredients in the kitchen must be strictly adhered to.
General advice for food handling amid coronavirus
Tackling coronavirus requires common sense and preparation, just like maintaining rigorous hygiene standards in a food-handling environment.
If you or anyone in the workplace has symptoms that indicate a respiratory illness then avoid preparing or handling food. If you have to sneeze or cough, cover your mouth with the crook of an elbow rather than your hands.
With regular hand washing and disinfecting of surfaces, those involved in food safety and food handling can do their part to slow the spread of coronavirus and keep vital supply chains open and safe.
Some great detail on Food Safety when Cooking can be found at the Victorian Government’s “Better Health Channel“.