SARS-CoV-2 should not be considered a food safety hazard

There have been many stories and much discussion about whether or not food could be involved in the transmission of COVID-19. The International Committee on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF) have published a paper on the topic and below are our 16 key points from the paper. You can find a link to the full paper at the foot of this post.  
SARS-CoV-2 and Food – 16 Key points:
  1. The ICMSF believes that it is highly unlikely that the ingestion of SARS-CoV-2 will result in illness; there is no documented evidence that food is a significant source and/or vehicle for transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
  2. It is vital that one differentiates a hazard from a risk, i.e., the mere presence of an infectious agent on food does not necessarily mean an infection will occur.
  3. While ingestion of the virus could potentially result in COVID-19 infection, oral transmission via food consumption has not been reported.
  4. SARS-CoV-2 should not be considered a food safety hazard since a true food safety hazard enters the human body with food via the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract, where it can infect organs / tissues elsewhere in the human body.
  5. The mere presence of an infectious agent in a food does not necessarily translate into human infection.
  6. Despite the many billions of meals consumed and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 Resulting in COVID-19.
  7. …it is highly unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 constitutes a food safety risk.
  8. There are relatively few reports of SARS-CoV-2 Virus being found on food ingredients, food products, and packaging materials. In many instances, such reports are not specific as to how the virus was identified, what amount of virus was found and whether the virus was viable and infectious.
  9. As the methods used for identification of the virus are primarily gene-based, what most of these reports show is the presence of RNA of the virus. In that sense, the reports show that a hazard to human health may be present.  They do not show that there actually is a hazard present (i.e., viable virus) or that it is a risk to human health via ingestion or handling of food.
  10. Viruses present on food or food packaging also will lose viability over time.  Following a risk-based approach, it is very unlikely that such contamination would result in infection.
  11. However, whilst there is currently no evidence linking food or food packaging as a source of cross contact infection, it is prudent to emphasise to food producers, manufacturers and handlers the importance of using good hygiene practices to minimise any possibility of food or food-contact surfaces as a vector for SARS-CoV-2.
  12. The mere presence of SARS-CoV-2 May be mistakenly perceived as causing a food safety concern… Unfortunately, the perception is created that food safety may be at risk, but again there is no evidence to date that it is.
  13. …some countries are restricting food imports or asking for COVID-19 freedom statements…ICMSF believes that these controls are not scientifically justified…
  14. The discovery of genetic traces of SARS-CoV-2 on food may raise concerns about food safety, but this does not indicate a risk for public health and should, therefore, not be a basis for restricting food trade or initiating a food recall.
  15. Given the lack of evidence associating food or food packaging with the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, ICMSF does not advise food end product or environmental testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus for reasons of food safety.
  16. As SARS-CoV-2 does not pose a food safety risk, systematic sampling and testing for the virus is of no added value for food safety purposes.

Click here to download the full paper.

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