The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission both recently announced new guidelines for food safety as consumers and retailers alike show anxiety about the novel Covid-19 virus being spread in the food supply chain.
In particular, both guidelines emphasized that it is “highly unlikely” that Covid-19 can be spread from food or food packaging. And, for the EU, it highlights that business do not have the authority to ask for “virus-free” certificates for food – to ask the supplier to prove that the food does not contain the virus.
This central message in both food business guidance reports points to the lack of evidence that the food supply chain poses any real threat to the health of consumers.
Risk management and mitigation of the spread of the virus is central to the messages portrayed by the two influential authorities.
Prioritizing the health and safety of workers, both focus on maintaining food supply chain safety measures amid increased concern for health in the Covid-19 pandemic.
What the WHO wanted to emphasize with its new report is that there is “no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging”. Further, that “coronaviruses cannot multiply in food” as they need “an animal or human host to multiply”.
With the release of new research which suggests that the novel Covid-19 virus remains alive on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, up to four hours on copper and up to 24 hours on cardboard, WHO reminds those in the food chain that this information should “be interpreted with caution in a real-life environment”.
According to WHO’s report, it advises the industry to create physical distancing measures and introduce new, strict hygiene and sanitation rules.
This comes after the organization live-streamed a webinar on the subject earlier this month with the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN).
These new guidelines are designed, it said, to “highlight additional measures so that the integrity of the food chain is maintained”. And adding the imperatives that it urges the agriculture industry to abide by, it outlined that frequent and effective handwashing for workers is essential and that food handlers should stay home if they are feeling unwell.
EU Commission’s response to the industry
Although along the same lines of warning the industry to take further precautions, the EU Commission’s published safety guidelines focus more directly on how businesses cannot ask for virus-free certifications.
This, it said in the statement, is because there is zero evidence that food poses a risk to public health.
While there is currently little research done on the subject as the virus is new and trying for the medical arena, no information is readily available on whether or not the virus can infect people through food. The Commission advises consumers to continue washing fruits and vegetables throughout the pandemic and stressed that as products go through food processing and shipping lines, they must be in environments that require washing and sanitation