The International Committee on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF) is a non-governmental organization and an observer to the Codex Alimentarius. The chairman is Martin Cole, and members include Darrell W. Donahue and Lucia Anelich, and consultants Robert Buchanan and Jeffrey M. Farber.
The comments covered coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, which can cause the disease known as COVID-19. ICMSF shared technical and scientific insights that it believes are relevant to professionals within and along the food supply chain, as well as to governments that oversee food safety.
ICMSF members believe that ingestion of SARS-CoV-2 is highly unlikely to cause illness because there is no documented evidence that food is an important source and/or vector of transmission. Experts say it is critical to separate the hazards from the risks, i.e., the presence of infectious substances in food does not necessarily mean that an infection will occur.
In April, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization released the COVID-19 Food Safety Guidance for Businesses, along with another document providing advice to food authorities.
Sampling and testing for viruses is not the best use of resources
ICMSF experts say SARS-CoV-2 should not be considered a food safety hazard because the hazard enters the body with food through the gastrointestinal tract, where it can infect organs and tissues. body. Scientists gave the example of a hepatitis A virus that enters the bloodstream and causes foodborne illness and eventually infects in the liver.
ICMSF does not recommend testing final food products or food environment areas for SARS-CoV-2 virus to ensure food safety. Since SARS-CoV-2 does not pose a food safety risk, systematic virus sampling and testing for these purposes would not provide any added value. Due to the uncertainty and inconsistency of expected analytical results (for RNA testing only), sampling plans and subsequent corrective actions do not represent the best use of food processing facility resources.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the consumption of billions of meals and handling of food packaging, there is no evidence that food, food packaging, or food handling is the source or a significant route of transmission of the virus.
The opinion notes that SARS-CoV-2, which cannot multiply in food, has been reported in food ingredients, products and packaging materials.
"In many cases, such reports are unclear as to how the virus is identified, the amount found, and whether the virus is infectious and contagious. Since the methods used to identify viruses are largely genetic-based, most of these reports indicate the presence of viral RNA. they indicate the possible presence of human health hazards. They do not indicate the actual presence of hazards such as live viruses, nor do they indicate a threat to human health through the ingestion or handling of food. Viruses present on food or packaging can lose their viability over time."
Food trade and supply chains have been severely disrupted due to the health impacts of the workforce along the farm-to-fork supply chain.
Some countries restrict food imports, test imported products, and/or require COVID-19 Freedom Declarations.ICMSF argues that these controls are scientifically unjustified because there is no documented evidence that food is a significant source and/or vector of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
Some Chinese importers require exporters to sign COVID-19 declarations. Since February of this year, Chinese customs officials have been conducting COVID-19 testing of food, packaging and the environment at the border.
Reports from China indicate that salmon imported from Norway, chicken imported from Brazil and shrimp imported from Ecuador or their packaging have tested positive for the virus. Following the discovery of chicken, the Philippines suspended poultry imports from Brazil in mid-August, while Hong Kong banned poultry meat imports from an affected plant. Both countries have now lifted those restrictions.
ICMSF experts say the discovery of genetic traces of SARS-CoV-2 on food may raise safety concerns, but it does not indicate a public health risk and should not be the basis for restricting food trade or initiating a recall.
To the extent that food security has been affected in some areas, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the production, trade and distribution of food.
ICMSF says SARS-CoV-2 is an occupational hazard that can affect the health of employees and their ability to work. The focus of food businesses should be on protecting workers, consumers and restaurant patrons from person-to-person transmission of the infection.
In food companies, it is advisable to establish effective measures and integrate them into good hygiene practices and food safety management systems, such as HACCP-based systems, so that companies may already have to ensure that the production, handling and manufacture of products are operationally hygienic and safe for consumers. Companies should verify that the measures are effective and should regularly verify that they are properly implemented in their daily operations.
Process environmental risk factors such as humidity, low temperatures, restricted airflow, physical exertion, talking and shouting have been proposed to increase the chances of person-to-person transmission.
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