Ever worried that you might catch Covid-19 from a frozen smoothie? The World Health Organisation is funding Irish scientists to investigate whether the coronavirus can be transmitted through food and food packaging.
A group of scientists at University College Dublin is researching whether uncooked foods such as frozen berries and fresh vegetables can harbour or transmit the virus. The study also extends to the packaging.
The good news is that, although the research is ongoing, scientists have found no evidence thus far that the virus can be transmitted through food.
The main route of Covid-19 transmission is through person-to-person contact, in airborne respiratory droplets spread by coughing, sneezing and talking. But concerns have been raised that the virus could spread through food packaging and in certain foods.
The study is focusing on frozen berries, which can be eaten without having to be cooked. Researchers also tested fresh fruits like bananas, strawberries and raspberries and vegetables like beans and bags of salad. The bags were sampled for the virus, as well as the salads inside. While the tests are ongoing, so far they have turned up no evidence of Covid-19, according Dr Guerinno Macori, a research scientist at the Centre for Food Safety who is leading the UCD study.
"Of concern are processed foods and food packaging, wherein the SARS-CoV-2 could reach a susceptible consumer following cross-contamination from a previously infected individual. Furthermore, the virus may be stable at refrigeration temperature and survive freezing at low temperature, (-20 degrees C)," said Dr Macori in a statement.
"In fact, there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is a food safety risk and from a hazard-risk perspective, the overall potential risk of acquiring Covid-19 from contaminated food or food packaging appears to be very low; however, providing data is crucial for supporting this information and exclude the zoonotic nature of this new virus."
The WHO has said there is no evidence people can contract Covid-19 from food. However, the food scientist who led the WHO's investigation into the origin of the pandemic told a press conference last month that it was possible the virus could be transmitted on packets of frozen food.
Peter Ben Embarek suggested that it warranted further investigation. Science journals have reported on Chinese research linked outbreaks to frozen packages of meat and fish, with live coronavirus found on a packet of frozen codfish.
The Irish study is part of a large body of investigative work on Covid-19 undertaken by Irish scientists in what is proving to be a 'golden age' for research, not least virologists, microbiologists, and epidemiologists.
Scientists at UCD are also working with Irish meat processors to investigate Covid-19 outbreaks in meat plants, which have been a hotbed of infection.
The study includes tracing outbreaks of the virus through whole genome sequencing. The method identifies slight mutations in the sequence of the virus as it passes from human to human, allowing its spread to be tracked. The meat plant project is funded by Science Foundation Ireland to find out why meat plants are so vulnerable to Covid-19.
The study is similar to research conducted at the height of the pandemic which investigated the genome sequences of 52 cases of hospital-acquired Covid-19 to find out how it spread.
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