Agência FAPESP – The team at the Food Research Center (FoRC) of the University of São Paulo (USP) released a statement with the objective of clarifying any doubts of the population about the role of food in the transmission of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 ). The text is signed by professors Bernadette Dora Gombossy de Melo Franco, Mariza Landgraf and Uelinton Pinto, all specialists in food microbiology. FoRC is a Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (CEPID) supported by FAPESP.
“It is important to note that the virus is not a living being and, therefore, is not able to multiply in food, as bacteria do. Viruses need to infect cells to replicate. The food or its packaging are only vehicles, that is, they may have a contaminated surface if they have been handled by someone with the disease, as well as a door handle or any other object. Just sanitize that there is no problem ”, explains Franco to Agência FAPESP.
As the researchers explain, the transmission of the new coronavirus occurs mainly through droplets and secretions that come out of the upper respiratory tract (mouth and nose) of an infected person (with or without symptoms) and reach the mucous membranes (eyes, nose and mouth) other individuals. It can also occur by contact of the hands with surfaces contaminated with the virus, which can be transferred to the eyes, nose and mouth.
In previous outbreaks caused by coronavirus (SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV) there was no transmission through food and, according to FoRC scientists, there is no reason to think that this will happen in the case of COVID-19. “Science has not yet been able to determine the origin of SARS-CoV-2, but there are scenarios suggesting that the virus has spread from animal hosts, such as bats and pangolins, perhaps due to contact with these animals or even their ingestion. . But there is no scientific evidence that beef animals for human consumption, such as cattle, poultry or pigs, are carriers or have the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Even so, the World Health Organization recommends that the consumption of raw or poorly processed meats be avoided ”, they say.
The FoRC team listed simple measures that can help keep SARS-CoV-2 away from the kitchen and food. Hand hygiene before eating or handling any food is essential.
“In COVID-19, hygiene and cleaning recommendations are the same as always and must be followed carefully. Countertops, sinks, crockery and other utensils must always be clean and dry, without food residues. Refrigerators, freezers, ovens, stoves and other appliances must be cleaned and sanitized regularly, with water, soap and sanitizers or bleach. The same goes for the walls, floor and ceiling. These procedures prevent the presence of undesirable microorganisms in the kitchen, including the coronavirus, and prevent cross-contamination, that is, the transfer of microorganisms from contaminated food or surfaces to non-contaminated food ”, says the text.
Information on the persistence time of SARS-CoV-2 on different surfaces is still controversial. Some scientific studies with other coronaviruses indicate their permanence in metal, plastic and glass for up to nine days, while other studies indicate shorter times: 24 hours in cardboard and three days in metal or plastic. However, these viruses are inactivated in about a minute by contact with 62-71% ethyl alcohol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite.
For foods that will be eaten raw, such as leafy vegetables, the recommendation of FoRC is to remove the outer or damaged leaves, separate the leaves one by one, wash them with abundant treated water and leave them in immersion, for 15 minutes, in a bleach solution (one tablespoon diluted in one liter of water), washing them with running treated water again. For non-leafy vegetables and fruits, even those that will be eaten without the peel, the procedure must be the same. Commercial chlorine-based products for plant disinfection are effective in eliminating microbial contamination and preventing cross-contamination. These procedures are effective against bacteria and viruses. Do not use bleach that contains other substances in its composition, as they can be toxic to the human organism. “Vinegar for culinary purposes has no sanitizing effect”, explains the group.
Heat treatment of food, such as cooking and frying, when done correctly, eliminates viruses if they are contaminating the raw product. However, it is necessary to avoid further contamination after heating, especially if the food is not heated again before being consumed. It is also important not to leave cooked food in contact with raw food, to avoid cross contamination.
The consumption of ready-to-eat meals delivered at home, picked up at service counters or by drive-thru requires extra care. It is recommended to choose trusted companies and place the order directly, by phone or applications, avoiding the interference of unknown intermediaries. Whenever possible, opt for cardboard packaging, as it is believed that the virus resists for less time on paper than on plastic or aluminum. Disinfection of the packages must be done before opening them, with soap and water or gel alcohol. Do not consume products with violated packaging.
The researchers also recommend avoiding personal contact with the meal delivery person. Home delivery companies are recommending that couriers clean their hands with gel alcohol, a care that reduces risk, but does not reduce it to zero. Payment should preferably be made remotely, per application. One should avoid handling money and be cautious with the use of credit card machines, which may be contaminated, and hand hygiene at the end.
When purchasing food products – whether at points of sale or online – clean all packaging and surfaces before storing them in the refrigerator or pantry and wash your hands thoroughly when finished.