Do Bats Sneeze? Food Safety and COVID-19

No topic dominated the media in 2020 like the COVID-19 pandemic.After endless deliberation over infec- tion counts and challenges to national health systems, public debate turned to controversial government-mandated containment measures to reduce COV- ID-19 transmission, such as wearing face masks, social distancing, and curfews. But for those responsible for the future of food safety, there are other, more important issues.There is no evidence to date that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted via food or food packaging. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food; they need an animal or human host to multiply.The virus can spread directly from person-to-person when someone with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes, producing droplets that reach the nose, mouth,or eyes of others. But COVID-19 can indirectly affect food safety and food security in other ways. Meat processing facilities were associated with COVID-19 clusters. There were fears that food test- ing could be hampered due to supply shortages and diverted testing capaci- ties. Warnings circulated about potential new food fraud threats.Consumers caused local food shortages by panic buying. After all, it was food safety issues related to zoonotic trans- mission from wild animals used for food that most likely caused the pandemic, right? However, while experts claimedthat humans initially contracted COV- ID-19 by eating bats, the mechanism remains unclear. While rumors circulat- ed that the virus originated in a lab or local meat market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, how does that square with the discovery of SARS-Cov-2 in European blood samples dating back to summer 2019?Often taken for granted by the majority of consumers, our food systems have not failed to supply safe foods during this pandemic thanks to international collaboration, high quality and safety standards, strong flexibility in adapting well-established food safety man- agement systems, and protecting and educating food workers. However, we know that pandemics may occur more frequently in the future.This gloomy outlook is intertwined with the future of food safety because of the global appetite for meat and increased animal mass production, growing antimicrobial resistance (AMR), climate change, urbanization, human mobility, and globalization.But pandemics provide a unique op- portunity to take stock and prepare for the future, to increase vigilance against potential food safety and food security threats, and to interact with consumers to demonstrate what we can all do to assure a safe, secure food supply and robust public health.

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