What happens if you eat coronavirus?
Hope you are safe and well. Here’s what I’ve learned this week from experts on Metafact.
Even if you eat a contaminated apple, you’re likely safe
So far, the expert consensus is clear that the risk of getting coronavirus from groceries is low. The CDC, FDA and the European Food Safety Authority have also confirmed there is ‘no evidence that food is a source or transmission route of coronavirus’. Nothing is certain and this could change as new evidence comes in, so I wanted to know what would happen if we did eat the virus? If someone contagious coughed over an apple which I unknowingly ate? Would I get COVID-19?
I asked 2 virus experts to verify what would happen:
Food is not inhaled into the respiratory tract and any virus present will likely be inactivated in the stomach.
writes Dr Angela Rasmussen, a virologist from Columbia University.
High acidity, low pH environments such as the stomach can both disrupt the envelope and degrade viral proteins and RNA that are other key components of the virus particle.
Professor Paul Digard, Chair of Virology at the University of Edinburgh confirms this:
Initial research indicates that SARS-CoV-2 is sensitive to pH, so yes, stomach acid would be expected to kill it.
Is there any evidence that other human coronaviruses can be transmitted orally? No said Professor Digard, although there are certain animal coronaviruses that are transmitted orally (within pigs mostly) - he is unaware of any human coronavirus being spread orally.
The risk is in handling the food, so wash everything thoroughly
Although eating the virus is unlikely to give us COVID-19, your hands would have the infectious virus on them while handling contaminated food. If you then touch your nose or eyes via mucous membranes, that is a greater risk than eating it.
I asked Dr Nigel Cook, who specializes in the transmission of viruses via foods. He answered a few questions you can read here and confirms what other experts are saying:
It is possible that contamination of food surfaces could occur due to handling by an infected person; however, there is no current evidence that there is a risk of transmission of SARS-Cov2 via foodstuffs.
Despite this, experts suggest it’s best practice to wash your hands thoroughly with soap before handling food and after handling food. It’s also important to wash your fruits & vegetables for thirty seconds under running water as Dr Cook explains:
Nevertheless, to be prudent it is good practice to wash the surfaces thoroughly of any foods intended to be consumed uncooked, e.g. fruit, salad vegetables. Washing fruit and vegetable surfaces thoroughly in clean water should reduce any potential microbial contamination. Thirty seconds in running water is effective at reducing virus contamination of fruit and vegetables.
For certain high-surface-area vegetables (eg lettuce, broccoli etc), experts suggest soaking them in water. I asked Dr Jason Bolton, a food safety expert from the University of Maine, who posted a short video on the best methods to wash various fruits & vegetables.
Cooked food is very safe
So washing fresh produce is important, but what if someone sneezed on my steak, does cooking kill the virus?
Any cooked food will be completely safe.
said Professor Digard, while Dr Cook shares some guidance for us on cooking guidelines:
For cooked foods, it is recommended to follow guidelines such as those provided by the UK Food Standards Agency found here
Stay safe and may the facts be with you!
Ben McNeil, Founder of Metafact
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