The various transmission modes of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have not been completely determined.
SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), spreads primarily through respiratory droplets. In some cases, airborne transmission is possible.
Apart from these, some scientists believe that the virus can spread through food products.
A team of scientists at the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences and the Food Safety Research Center in Iran has emphasized the risk of various staple food products, including meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and ready-to-eat foods, as potential carriers of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
COVID-19 and food products
The study, which appeared in the journal Food Control, investigates the risk of various staple food products as potential vehicles for SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
Early in the pandemic, scientists discovered that the virus also affects the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach, small intestine, and colon. Hence, the fecal-oral route for SARS-CoV-2 transmission is possible.
People with gastric problems such as atrophic gastritis and gastric intestinal metaplasia may be vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection.
The researchers believe that adding precautionary measures to prevent contamination by infectious people to established food products known to carry SARS-CoV-2 transmission could help mitigate the virus's spread. Health experts have also urged people to practice respiratory hygiene, physical distancing, regular hand hygiene, and wearing masks to prevent infection.
Handling food products
Though some studies have shown that contracting the virus through food or food packaging carries a low risk, it is still essential to take precautionary measures.
SARS-CoV-2 has high stability in certain environmental conditions – particularly cold, dry weather – and has been observed to survive on surfaces (or fomites) for as long as 72 hours.
Scientists have also found viral particles in stool samples from COVID-19 patients. Hence, the fecal-oral route should be thoroughly investigated as a potential viral mode of transmission during this pandemic too.
Evidence also reveals that infection can transpire in pigs and rabbits. Plus, food handlers can contaminate various food, including bread, dairy products, meat, fruits, vegetables, and even packaging materials.
Food processing approach
The team also noted that food processing companies, specifically, ready-to-eat and frozen products like frozen yogurt and ice cream, should be cautious about cross-contamination of these products by SARS-CoV-2. These products could not be processed at home, heightening the risk of infection if the food handler harbors the virus.
"Therefore, these statistics profoundly highlight the great impact of food handlers on the occurrence of food-associated outbreaks. Besides, the airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2 is also possible, particularly in indoor environments," the team explained.
Further, people must continue to adhere to hygiene instructions by the World Health Organization (WHO) while grocery shopping. The WHO recommends that consumers immediately dispose of the packaging materials and avoid eating raw foods, like meat products.
"Accordingly, food may act as a potential vehicle of SARS-CoV-2 due to whether carry-through or carry-over contaminations. Considering carry-over, SARS-CoV-2 spread from personnel to food products or food surfaces is feasible," the researchers wrote in the paper.
Cooking food should be done at high temperatures, which is more than 60˚C for at least 30 min. The team also proposed the daily ingestion of food rich in probiotics and bioactive components.
Meanwhile, the WHO also recommends washing food items, like fruits and vegetables, with soap and water before consumption, to remove potential pathogens. Though the health agency believes it is unnecessary to disinfect food packaging items, it is essential to wash the hands after handling them.
Global health crisis
Determining and fully understanding the possible ways of SARS-CoV-2 transmission is crucial amid the ongoing pandemic. To date, there have over 57.1 million cases of COVID-19 confirmed and more than 1.36 million people have died.
The United States remains the nation with the highest number of infections, topping 11.74 million cases. India, Brazil, and France also report surging infections, with 9 million, 5.98 million, and 2.13 million cases, respectively.