There is currently “no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission” of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has concluded.
Amidst growing concern over the spread of the virus, EFSA issued a statement on their website on Monday (9 March) saying the disease is unlikely to be spread via food and added they are closely monitoring the situation as any new information about the outbreak comes to light.
EFSA’s chief scientist, Marta Hugas, said that “previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur”.
“At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect.”
The source of the initial infection, which originated in Wuhan, China, is thought to have come from animals.
However, although researchers are still learning the specifics of how COVID-19 is transmitted, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has confirmed that the virus is spreading from person to person mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale.
BfR, Germany’s risk assessment body, concurred with the findings, saying there are “currently no cases which have shown any evidence of humans being infected with the new type of coronavirus by another method, such as via the consumption of contaminated food or via imported toys.”
Although they caution that “transmission via surfaces which have recently been contaminated with viruses is, nonetheless, possible through smear infections,” they specify that this is only likely to occur “during a short period after contamination, due to the relatively low stability of coronaviruses in the environment”.
Despite this, Belgian health authorities have recently taken the decision not to serve rare steaks and meats in restaurants and cafeterias.
A sign in the Berlaymont canteen said that “we prefer, for the moment, not to offer you steaks and rare meats in our restaurants and cafeterias”.
This is in line with food safety precautions of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has issued precautionary recommendations including advice on following good hygiene practices during food handling and preparation, such as washing hands, cooking meat thoroughly and avoiding potential cross-contamination between cooked and uncooked foods.
EFSA’s headquarters are based in Parma, one of the affected regions in the north of Italy, which has been subject to emergency restrictions on movement imposed by the Italian government.
However, EFSA currently remains fully functional, with staff working remotely and connecting with experts and partners via telemeetings.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]
*For the latest updates about coronavirus in Europe, see our tracker.