As of February 14, 2020, a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has inflicted more than 60,000 people in China and around the globe. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, released on Feb. 7, says that as of Feb. 4, in addition to the cases confirmed in China, more than 150 others from 23 additional counties have been confirmed to have the novel virus. As of February 13, CDC has confirmed 15 cases of the viral infection in the U.S.
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This latest update from the CDC says that there is little evidence to suggest animals or animal products imported from China pose a risk for spreading 2019-nCoV; the virus is spread from person-to-person contact, and not from food or water.
Food Safety Best Practices
While food safety concerns regarding the virus are minimal, the World Health Organization (WHO) said we are in a “window of opportunity” to stop the new coronavirus from becoming a broader global crisis, and that food safety is one area that people should be looking to.
To prevent the spread of the disease, WHO suggests that basic food safety measures be followed by the public: They advise people to wash their hands frequently, avoid consumption of raw or undercooked animal products, and take on good food safety practices, such as never reusing the same chopping boards and knives that were used on raw meat.
Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FIDSA, senior scholar for Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a board-certified infectious disease physician noted that, although the virus is spreading chiefly in a respiratory droplet manner, there are reports of diarrhea and vomiting in patients. “This is important for food handlers as fecal-oral transmission is likely possible,” he tells Food Quality & Safety. “It is essential that hand washing before food preparation and requisite general food preparation safety protocols be followed.”
Still, he doesn’t feel that people should be worried about food safety with respect to this outbreak, explaining that food producers should discuss what is known and what is unknown about the virus with their employees and stress safe food preparation methods as part of day-to-day operations.
Mark Flanagan, CEO of Shield Safety Group, told Food Quality & Safety that, while there’s still very limited risk from this novel coronavirus in the Western world, good food hygiene practices are always recommended. “[This] is particularly important, as the virus is zoonotic, rumored to have originated through wild ‘game’ meat, although we are still awaiting scientific clarification on this,” he said. “Basic food hygiene principles need to be thoroughly followed now more than ever.”
This is a rapidly evolving story and FQ&S will update information as it becomes available.