Food Safety in the Era of Covid-19 Outbreak

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in 2018 that every 7th June would be World Food Safety Day. This day aims to draw attention to matters important to global food safety. It also aims to inspire action to prevent, detect and manage the foodborne risk that has far-reaching consequences for international communities. This year the theme is ‘Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow’. However, food safety during the Covid-19 pandemic has been nothing but tricky.

The good news is that no evidence has been found to suggest that coronavirus is foodborne. It implies that one cannot get sick by consuming the food that has come in contact with the virus. Covid-19 is a respiratory disease. It spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when one sneezes, for instance, or coughs. 

Similarly, the risk of virus transmission through drinking water is low. The water provided to our neighbourhoods undergo treatment facilities first. Here it is regularly treated and disinfected. Thus, controlling the passage of any pathogens. 

STEPS TO ENSURE FOOD SAFETY.

However, one can never be too careful about their safety and the safety of their family. Even though the virus is not foodborne, we can always take steps to be on the safer side. 

Here are some food safety precautions to follow during the covid 19 outbreak.

  1. Ensure you have at least two weeks of groceries at a time 
  2. If you are an adult or a high-risk individual, let your friends help you grocery shopping or get it delivered to your doorstep.
  3. Toss out paper and plastic bags from the store.
  4. Clean your hands with soap or sanitiser before you go grocery shopping.
  5. Inside the grocery store, respect and follow the Covid-19 precautions in place. 
  6. When storing groceries, always separate meat from ready to eat foods. 
  7. Do NOT wash produce with soap, bleach, sanitiser, alcohol, disinfectant or any other chemical. Organic products like Salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, and lime juice have also not been shown to remove germs on produce effectively. 
  8. Just rinse fresh fruits and vegetables gently under cold, running tap water. 
  9. Suppose someone in your home is sick, clean and disinfect “high-touch” surfaces daily. These include handles, kitchen countertops, faucets, light switches, and doorknobs. 
  10. Clean the kitchen counter and kitchen utensils and avoid cross-contamination, especially if a Covid positive person isolates in your home.  

UNCERTAIN FOOD SECURITY AMONG THE UNDERPRIVILEGED

Much of the above information may be evident to some of us. For others, some of these tips may feel like second nature. However, some communities cannot economically afford to follow through or simply are not aware of these food safety practices, pandemic or otherwise. 

Studies have shown that individuals from low socioeconomic status are at a higher risk of experiencing a threat to food safety than their counterparts.  Both cultural and economic factors play a role in the existence of this relationship. 

Their economic and time constraints impede their access to the sanitary infrastructure of a community. Crowded homes where everyone eats from the same thali, smaller kitchen with limited water supply, and lack of refrigeration are the norm for them. 

Cultural knowledge around food safety also tends to be limited. Most individuals that fall under the low-income category are trapped in the cycle of generational deprivation.  Thus, unlike in high-income families, food safety knowledge is not passed down through the generations. 

More importantly, the lack of resources hinders their ability to update their food safety knowledge. A look into the difference in food safety policy implementation across socioeconomic neighbourhoods will give an excellent example. From a policy standpoint, India’s food safety standards are at par with the most developed nations. However, when it comes to their implementation in low-income localities, the results are not guaranteed.  

IMPACT OF PANDEMIC ON FOOD SECURITY

These disparities cannot be ignored. Easy access to safe and nutritious food is a fundamental human right. Thus, ensuring the poor have access to safe food is a part of providing basic food security for the population.  

If the food isn’t safe, it isn’t food.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only introduced challenges to this process. During the migrant worker’s crisis in the 1st wave of Covid-19, practising food safety habits was the last thing on their minds. The migrants suffered starvation. It was only natural to hang on to any bits and scraps of food available to them. We can only make the best guess that their safety for consumption would have been questionable. 

On the production and supply front, things were not great either. The direct ingestion of food has a minimum risk of causing Covid-19. But there are many processes in place for the production, transportation, storage and delivery of food that can expose people to the virus. 

Food factory workers were at high risk of catching and transmitting the virus from good packaging and other equipment because they work long hours indoors in close contact with each other. Lockdown restrictions in the early phases of the pandemic also led to the temporary closure of many supply chains. Suspension of this service to ensure the medical safety of workers had culminating consequences, resulting in a price hike of essential products. 

Despite government intervention, essential food was hard to obtain. Food safety was compromised in low-income localities. The eternal circulation of misinformation around grocery cleaning methods also threatened food safety in homes.

INTERVENTIONS 

In addition to the government aids for the underprivileged communities, local individuals and organisations stepped up to save their fellow citizens. 

Small groups and NGOs cropped up around the nation to ensure that the needy and helpless had a basic healthy meal to get through these rough times. Organisations like UPAY, already catering to underprivileged communities, accessed the need and provided free of cost, safe and healthy ration and meals for their beneficiaries. 

In the long run, there is a need to better the system that caters to the basic needs of the poor. Food safety and hygiene sensitization sessions can be conducted in slums and underprivileged communities to educate them about its importance. The price of sanitation and food-based infrastructure should be controlled to make it accessible for all.  

Small steps and initiatives as such are important to ensure the provision of safe food today for a healthier tomorrow.

Written by : Angel Andrews

Edited by : Ananya Shetty

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