Health and Food Safety Amid COVID-19

During this pandemic, consumers are getting most of their food from grocery stores, and many stores have modified their operating hours to allow for more time to restock shelves and clean.

Sahil Sharma

Food is a source of comfort, as well as nourishment for you and your family – especially now – and we hope this essay will help you continue to buy food products and prepare food with care and confidence. When you prepare snacks and meals, it is essential to take care of simple food safety measures to help avert foodborne illness.

Whether you are a professional chef, a home cook , or just a recipe writer, there are some safety tips you should take to help keep your food safe all the way from the grocery store to the kitchen table. In fact, from the food & beverages industry perspective, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is also committed to providing timely recommendations, regulatory information, guidance, and technical assistance necessary to support rapid coronavirus disease response efforts.

The process is in harmony with establishing good management practices and should allow FSSAI to circulate and instrument references and guidelines related to COVID-19 more swiftly.

Presently there is no indication of food or food packaging being linked with transmission of COVID-19. However, when disease-causing microbes or pathogens infect food, they can cause foodborne ailment, often called food poisoning.

And, we cannot afford to fall sick now. Although healthy people tend to recover from a foodborne infection within a short span of time, some can develop chronic or life-threatening health issues. In addition, some people are at a higher risk for developing foodborne illness, including pregnant women, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. Generally, consuming dangerous foodborne bacteria will usually cause illness within 1 to 3 days of eating the contaminated food.

However, sickness can also occur within 20 minutes or up to 6 weeks later. Symptoms of foodborne illness can include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain – and flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and body ache.

We should be working in many ways to keep ourselves safe while the world is coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Food availability and food safety are vitally important to our well-being, and we should continue working hard to ensure the foods we, our family, and our pets eat are safe and healthy Regardless, it is always critical to follow the four key steps of food safety (clean, separate, cook, and chill) to prevent foodborne illness.

It is also important to wash your hands frequently, including right before preparing and eating food and after preparing pet food. There are presently no countrywide scarcities of food, but still in rare cases you may notice that certain foods are momentarily out of stock. This is mainly because customers are purchasing more than normal, and not because there is shortage of food.

Although grocery stores may be temporarily out of certain products, there are no nationwide shortages of food. Food production and manufacturing are spread throughout India. During this pandemic, consumers are getting most of their food from grocery stores, and many stores have modified their operating hours to allow for more time to restock shelves and clean.

In addition, many stores are providing special hours for seniors or other high-risk individuals to shop and are offering pick-up and delivery services. Buy enough food for a week or two at a time.

Avoid close contact with others (within about 6 feet) when shopping. You must develop a habit of washing your hands quite often, especially before and after cooking meals, before eating all meals, and after you come home if you have gone out. There is a lot of false information online about the pandemic. You should rely on credible, accurate sources.

Many people have questions about how to shop safely. People should be reassured that there is presently no proof of human or animal food or food packaging being linked with transmission of the corona virus.

This coronavirus causes respiratory illness and is spread from person-to-person, unlike foodborne gastrointestinal or GI viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food.

Wear a face mask while you are in a grocery store. Some stores and localities may require it. Keep wipes along, or use one offered by a store to wipe down the handles of shopping basket. If you use reusable shopping bags, ensure they are cleaned or washed before each use.

You should not stop practicing social distancing while shop – try to keep at least 2 feet between you, store employees, and other shoppers. Keep your hands away from your face. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds when you return home and again after you put away your groceries.

You must not forget that before eating, wash fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with rinds and skins that are not eaten. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush.

For tinned products, always remember to clean opening lids before using. When unpacking food products, freeze or refrigerate poultry, seafood, meat, eggs, and other perishables — like fruits, vegetables, herbs —within 2 hours of buying.

Regularly clean and sanitize kitchen using a disinfectant product or a DIY sanitizing solution with 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) unscented liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water, however, do not use this solution or other disinfecting products on food.

If you think that you or a family member has a foodborne illness, contact your physician immediately.  Absorbing the do’s and don’ts of food safety and precautionary measures may help prevent foodborne disease. From industry standpoint, FSSAI should also continue to investigate foodborne illnesses and outbreaks. Food safety starts in your shopping cart!

(Sahil Sharma, food technologist and public policy consultant at The Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security (CFNS))

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