- COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus which is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans, so there is still a level of uncertainty.
- Food has not been identified as a likely source or route of transmission of the virus.
- The global food sector is being impacted both economically and socially, across the entire food chain, in relation to: human resources, such as changes in key personnel; supply chains of ingredients, packaging, finished products and equipment; sourcing as manufacturers may need to rely on alternative suppliers at short notice; transportation of people, materials and goods.
- As is usual in such situations, public health authorities provide guidance on recommendations on how to reduce the spread of infection (see links below)
- While the virus originally passed from an animal to a human in China, the current cases are a result of human-to-human transmission
- The mode of transmission is via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough or exhale. The wearing of medical face masks is thought to have limited value in protecting against infection, however, they can be effective in preventing already infected persons from spreading the disease to others, hence are recommended for those in close contact with infected individuals
- Public health advice is to minimize the opportunity for transmission through social distancing, effective hand washing and cleaning practices. Where social distancing cannot be effectively achieved in enclosed public spaces, public health bodies propose wearing face masks/face coverings to help reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
Hygiene and Food Safety
- Food operators are expected to adhere to good manufacturing practices, and food hygiene and food safety processes and procedures to ensure they produce safe food, as well as health and safety procedures to protect their workforce.
- The food sector has good food hygiene practices in place including rigorous hand hygiene, cleaning and sanitation, and food handler fitness to work controls to prevent cross-contamination and spread of infection. Advice from public health authorities is that these practices should be enhanced at this time, along with social distancing measures, to prevent the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace.
- Food handlers are expected to already be well informed and trained about hand hygiene in factory operations (including washrooms and canteens). In the event of lack of access to hand-washing facilities with soap and warm water, sanitisers can be used, but are not as effective if hands are visibly soiled. Please refer to IFST’s Food Science Fact Sheet on ‘Hand Hygiene’.
- In line with food safety best practice, good hygiene is important to avoid cross-contamination between raw or undercooked foods and cooked or ready to eat foods, in food preparation areas.
- The need for wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks/face coverings and gloves, by food handlers at work is decided following a risk assessment. PPE is not required by public health authorities to provide protection against COVID-19 for food handlers at work.
- Wearing PPE may introduce additional potential risks – temptation to touch face/nose/eyes increasing the risk of infection; potential introduction of foreign objects. Therefore, the design of any PPE and appropriate procedures for their use and disposal should be considered in HACCP and food risk management.
- WHO advice on Coronaviruses https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus
- ICMSF opinion on SARS-CoV-2 and its relationship to food safety https://www.icmsf.org/publications/papers/ (or see the document below)
- UK Guidance for Food businesses https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-food-businesses/guidance-for-food-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19
- EFSA advice on Coronaviruses and food https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/coronavirus-no-evidence-food-source-or-transmission-route
- ECDC information on COVID-19 pandemic https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/novel-coronavirus-china
- FSAI COVID-19 (Coronavirus) frequently asked questions https://www.fsai.ie/faq/coronavirus.html
- IFST Information Statement on Foodborne Viral Infections https://www.ifst.org/resources/information-statements/foodborne-viral-infections