The whole world is on edge because of the coronavirus outbreak that started in China but is now rapidly spreading across the globe. Government officials and medical experts are working tirelessly to find a way to control the outbreak and help those already infected. It is not yet being called a pandemic, but soon it will be if scientists can’t find a way to contain and cure the virus that has already claimed thousands of lives.
Chinese experts identified the virus in December 2019, when many people became sick with life-threatening symptoms like fever, chills and other ailments. Though it began in and initially seemed contained to, the province of Wuhan, it soon evolved and spread throughout China, then to other parts of the world. Countries in Europe, as well as Canada, Africa, Australia, and America, have all reported outbreaks to a greater or lesser degree. Italy reported in mid-February that almost a dozen people have already died, and its economy, so closely linked with tourism, has taken a hit as a result.
It was the end of January this year when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the rising crisis is a public health emergency worldwide.
We are going to offer some cautionary steps you can take to ensure your food is safe during this outbreak, but first, we’d like to explain what the novel coronavirus is and whether it can be transmitted through food.
Exactly What Is a Novel Coronavirus?
The word coronavirus is defined by WHO as a family of viruses, a group that includes everything from the common cold — sniffles and a cough, perhaps — to serious and debilitating sicknesses like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and SARS, another illness that began in China several years ago. SARS is the acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. A novel coronavirus refers simply to a new kind of virus in people that scientists have not encountered and identified before.
It was in mid-February that the virus was given its formal name: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, or, more simply, SARS-CoV-2. Specialists now call it COVID-19. That’s what we’re calling it here, for simplicity’s sake.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have resulted in an array of illnesses, some mild but some resulting in death. Patients display a range of symptoms, including fever, shortness of breath and coughing. The Centre For Disease Control (CDC) has stated that these symptoms may manifest themselves just two days after a person is exposed, or as many as 14 days. They base this projection on the way other viruses have incubated, including MERS-CoV.
Is It Transmitted Through Food?
According to the CDC, the coronavirus is spread most easily via person-to-person contact; in other words, anyone within a six-foot radius of a patient with the virus is at risk of contracting it. When a patient sneezes, coughs or touches something or someone, tiny drops of their infected fluids can land anywhere — on someone or something within close range. Then, another person touches that item — a cell phone or doorknob, for example — and may inhale those drops into their own lungs.
Coronaviruses are usually spread between animals and people, and then from person to person. The good news is this: coronavirus is almost certainly not spread through food — so far, experts say, there is no evidence of that whatsoever. So as far as your food goes, you can relax! And completely cooking all your food reduces the tiny risk to virtually nothing, as we know that, as with SARS, food that’s cooked for a minimum of 30 minutes at least 60 degrees C kills all germs.
How to Prepare and Store Food Safety to Minimize the Risk?
Still, it’s wise for you to take measures to ensure you and your family face no risks whatsoever with food, so we have some tips for you to follow to make sure your kitchen is an extra safe space — and the food that you make there is, too!
1) Practicing Good Hand Hygiene
There is no better way for you to reduce risk than frequent hand washing. Viruses are spread by those tiny drops of fluid we mentioned, remember? Therefore, before you even get food from the fridge or pantry and start prepping a meal, scrub your hands. It’s the best defense you can implement to stop the coronavirus in its tracks — and all germs, for that matter. Practicing good hand hygiene is the number one recommendation made by medical professionals for stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus, and doing this helps everybody control infection rates.
According to the CDC and other experts in microbiology, washing your hands frequently with soap and water reduces lung ailments like colds and other coronaviruses by more than 20 percent. According to WHO, hand washing eliminates the virus from your hands, so do it the minute you get home, not just when you’re preparing food. After all, it’s better to be safe, right?
Here’s what you should do: Get your hands wet with warm, clean running water. Using a good, anti-bacterial soap, lather it up and start scrubbing — not just your palms and tops of your hands, but underneath your fingernails, too, like a doctor would do before performing surgery. Keep scrubbing for a minimum of 25 seconds — you can even sing a song to yourself if that helps you keep time. Rinse your hands thoroughly afterward, and dry them on a clean towel or under a hand dryer. The important thing to remember is this: Scrubbing your hands won’t guarantee any exposure to the coronavirus, but it does guarantee you’ll be far less likely to develop the illness.
2) Cook All Meats & Eggs Completely
If you live in a community where the coronavirus has appeared, it is vital that you cook your meat and eggs completely, at a high enough temperature to kill any and all dangerous germs. Be sure all food is piping hot when you take it from the oven or fry pan before serving it. There must be no “pink” sections, particularly in chicken and other poultry, and no runny yolks in your eggs.
The virus doesn’t stand a chance when up against high temperatures and sustained cooking times. Be sure your meat reaches at least 75 degrees C in the center, and use a thermometer to be sure you’ve got there. Make sure none of the juices run pink or red, and that you cannot see any blood when you lift the meat from the oven. Stews and soups should be boiled for a minimum of 60 seconds — then you can turn down the burner. As for eggs, be certain the yolks are completely firm, not runny or giggly!
3) Make Sure Fruits & Veggies Are Completely Clean
Everyone knows how vital it is to handle meat correctly and cook it thoroughly to kill deadly bacteria, but fewer people are aware of just how dangerous fruits and vegetables can be if they are not cleaned properly. Often, when you buy produce, there are trace amounts of dirt and other potentially harmful things still on it, so you must wash it all — even fruit with rinds and skins you intend to peel off — before eating it.
Experts advise everyone to use baking soda to really scrub off pesticides and other harmful additives on fruit and vegetables because it really gets “into and under” the skin or rind and flushes out those dangerous elements. Mix one ounce of baking soda with 100 ounces of water, then soak fruits with skins — apples, for example — for 15 minutes. That gets rid of any hint of pesticide.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables that contain plenty of water, like celery and melons. Water strengthens your immune system, and a strong immune system fights the coronavirus and helps protect you. Other terrific disease combatants are garlic, onions, ginger, and many citrus fruits.
4) Proper Use of Kitchen Utensils
No matter what food you’re preparing, you need to use utensils, right? Taking care of them — everything from knives to serving spoons to cutting boards and other tools in your kitchen — goes a long way toward eliminating germs from surfaces and the food itself. Cleaning these kitchen tools completely — and often — reduces your risk of contaminating your food, and that reduces the risk of your contracting the coronavirus.
Raw meat can, as you likely know, cause you to contract food poisoning if you don’t handle and prepare it properly. But even the bowls and spoons and other utensils you use may harbor dangerous germs. Just to be safe, use one cutting board for seafood, but a different one for meat and perhaps even a third one for fruits and veggies. Maybe even a fourth one for cutting fresh bread! Go to whatever lengths you must feel protected; it’s always best to practice safe food habits than run the risk of getting any kind of infection. Better safe than sorry, we always say!
5) Protect Those Canisters/Containers
It isn’t just food preparation that matters — it’s food storage, too. Preventing germs from multiplying and spreading is the key to keeping your kitchen a safe space. Be sure that all your jars and canisters offer excellent seals, and keep their lids as germ-free as possible by washing them regularly. And keep the crisper drawers in the fridge clean and sparkling.
Protect foods like berries and fresh asparagus (just two examples) by storing them away from light, heat, oxygen, and humidity by keeping them well covered, in the fridge. You can learn a lot more about this subject by checking out one of our other blog posts, “Survival Food Storage — The Beginner’s Guide on a Budget.”
We know that the coronavirus is a scary thing — and reading headlines every day doesn’t make it easier to cope or less frightening. But it’s vital that you stay informed and on top of developments coming from experts on the issue, so read reliable sources — not just social media! — and you’ll be aware of what you need to do to feel safe and stay healthy.
Your food isn’t something you should fear, and if you make sure your kitchen is clean, and your food is properly stored and prepared, you won’t have anything to be scared of! Take these precautions we’ve offered for keeping deadly germs at bay and try not to worry! Stay informed, wash your hands a lot each and every day and you won’t get sick.
We can’t promise the coronavirus won’t come to your community, but we can practically guarantee it won’t come to your kitchen — if you do your food preparation safely and keep your fridge, counters, cupboards, and surfaces clean. And of course, wash those hands!