Why You’re Unlikely to Get the Coronavirus from Food

Rebecca Jennings wrote . . . . . . . . .

I was the 136th journalist to interview Ben Chapman this month. That’s not exactly surprising — we are in the middle of a pandemic, and Chapman is a food safety specialist who studies foodborne illness and has a podcast about how to avoid it. The North Carolina State University professor has been all over newspapers, radio shows, and websites like this one discussing how not to contract or spread the coronavirus through cooking, shopping, and food delivery.

There’s just one problem: People don’t seem to want to hear the best answers.

“We’re looking for all these other things that we could do,” he says, like spraying your vegetables with Lysol (don’t do this!) or leaving every cardboard box outside for three days before touching it (unnecessary!). Instead, the real answers just aren’t that exciting.

When it comes to food and the coronavirus, the biggest threat is person-to-person contact in grocery stores. If you can, use contactless delivery and tip generously; if you need to go to a physical store, wear a mask and stay six feet away from other shoppers. Always make sure to wash your hands after returning from the store or unpacking your delivered goods. And remember: The impact of not being a jerk to the people in the long chain of how your food ends up in your kitchen is much more significant than the potential threat of you getting the coronavirus from a box of cereal.

I spoke to Chapman about the most common questions and misconceptions people have about food right now, and the best practices for stopping the spread of Covid-19. We also chatted about common food safety mistakes people tend to make when they’re cooking at home, something many of us are doing more of now. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.


What’s this all been like for you as a food safety expert? Have you been talking to a lot of press?

It’s been overwhelming. No joke, I think you’re number 136. It’s not often you find yourself in the middle of this. There’s usually a lot of other people that are commenting, now it’s three of us, for whatever reason. There are three people that are doing interviews for the academic world.

Despite all the work Vox and other publications are putting out about coronavirus best practices, people still have so many questions. What are the biggest misconceptions about food safety that you’re seeing?

The biggest risk that we know of for SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 is being around other people. That’s why physical distancing is so important. If we look at the clusters of illnesses — the CDC is releasing information about this every couple of days — there’s a fascinating report of an outbreak in Chicago back in February. It was an individual who was asymptomatic but went to a funeral and embraced a bunch of people. That cluster typifies what is leading to community spread, which is people being around other people. It’s not a mystery.

The mystifying part about it is like, “Okay, got it, so don’t be around other people.” We, societally, can’t seem to get that under control. We either don’t believe it or don’t want to do it, so we’re looking for all these other things that we could do — it’s gone into food, it’s gone into HVAC systems. That part, as someone who does food safety outreach and research, is really interesting because I think we’re spending a lot of time answering the questions on why it’s not a food safety issue, but people want to look for the sexiest thing that they could do on this, which is like, “I’m gonna show you how serious I am about it, my food’s going to stay outside for three days, I’m gonna spray everything with Lysol, this is a big deal.”

It’s not that sexy. How about just wash your hands? I work with colleagues who do risk perceptions, and I do risk communication around food safety as a research area. One of the things that I think we’ll see as we investigate what’s happening more is that people just want some control. If I choose to wash all of my produce in dilute chlorine, well, that’s gotta be better and I’ve got control. The problem is, science doesn’t say that you should do that. People are really grasping at all the things that they can do.

What are the biggest questions you’ve been getting asked?

Is takeout food safe? Should I be going to the grocery store? What should I do when I go to the grocery store? Should I be leaving my food outside?

Well?

Yeah, takeout is okay. I think that having touchless, interaction-less delivery really, really helps because the big issue is interacting with people. If I can order a pizza and someone drops it off on my doorstep, and then sends me a text and says it’s here and we don’t have to talk to each other, that’s great. If takeout or delivery were to become problematic, it would be if we’re not practicing that interactionless process.

We don’t have any epidemiology pointing toward food or food packaging as a risk factor for getting Covid-19. Federal agencies are really working on that every day to make sure that that’s correct.

The biology of the virus really points to consumption not being a factor for us. So could the virus be on food? Yes. But am I likely to get sick from it? No, because of all of these factors around biology and epidemiology. Could someone inadvertently put the virus on a package? Yes, absolutely, but I can mitigate that risk by washing my hands.

We all have to be really careful of saying, in this time of uncertainty, “Yeah, don’t worry about it. This is zero risk.” Because there’s always a chance. But we have a very good, effective step in hand-washing as a way to limit and mitigate it.

What about theoreticals, like, what if a food worker coughs in my delivery food?

One of the things that I would highlight is all the stuff that we’re putting in place to make sure that a food worker does not do that in the first place. From a food safety systems standpoint, evaluating the health of employees, having employee health policies — this is something that we do all the time in the food industry for normal virus reasons, for pathogenic E. coli and salmonella reasons. We make sure that people don’t come to work ill, and put a process in place to make sure that their hand-washing and sanitizing is there.

But let’s go down this theoretical path: Someone coughs on my food and places a virus there. What we don’t have is a direct line to illness. It’s gross, but that’s different. There isn’t this direct line. If someone coughs on my food, do I want to eat virus-coughed-on food? Probably not, but is it a risk factor for getting sick? We don’t have any data that points to that right now.

We would expect to see it because we have tens of thousands of food handlers internationally that are Covid-positive that have symptoms and even more that are asymptomatic. But we don’t have any examples of an individual coughing and dispersing that virus, then leading to illness in people that have no connection other than eating food that came from the same grocery store or restaurant.

We can spend time on the theoretical risks, and that’s what we’re doing in trying to answer all these questions, but it’s still very much a theoretical kind of thing. Why don’t we focus on why there are high-risk individuals that are going to the grocery store without masks on? That’s a real, real issue.

Another popular question seems to be, do we need to cook the virus out of all of our food?

It’s a good question, and we have a data gap. We just don’t have a lot of information. What we know about SARS-CoV-1 is that, at higher temperatures, it gets inactivated. We don’t know what the magic temperature is, and so spending a lot of time on that now is tough, especially because we already have a very, very unlikely root of contamination. We don’t know what the right temperature is to tell people, and this is what we do all the time.

In poultry cooking, cooking to 165 degrees, that’s decades worth of science work that goes into that number. We’re only 100 days into this, and at some point in the future we may have better information, but I have real trouble with saying, “It is going to reduce your risk if you heat your leftovers up to 165 degrees,” because 165 may not be the right number. It may not actually change the risk at all. It’s not going to make it worse, that part I do know.

More people are cooking at home now. As a food safety expert, what are the biggest mistakes people tend to make when they’re starting as a beginner?

This is exactly the area I work in all the time. Over the past few years, we’ve conducted a bunch of research projects on behalf of the federal government observing people cooking different types of food.

The three big ones are: Hand-washing during meal preparation is almost nonexistent, and those hands can facilitate movement of pathogens. The more people that wash their hands, even if it’s not perfect, there’s a reduction of risk.

No. 2 would be thermometer use. Cooking foods to a specific temperature is something we don’t see done all the time. People get pretty confident like, “That turkey burger is done,” without checking the temperature. We see a lot of variability that could lead to risk.

The third thing is cleaning and sanitizing, especially around food preparation. We did a study where we recruited people who said that they washed poultry and then we saw that the sink basin gets really contaminated. We said, “Clean up like you would at home,” and cleaning and sanitizing stuff almost never happened.

People are obviously very scared right now. What’s your biggest concern in terms of consumer food safety?

We see about 48 million cases of foodborne illness a year. That’s 3,000 deaths, 125,000 hospitalizations. I don’t want to say food safety is more important than Covid-19, because it’s not. When we’re in a crisis, it’s not even close. But it is something that we’re dealing with all the time. If we are able to impact food safety a little bit with adding some more hand-washing and using thermometers, that would really reduce those illnesses. It’s a fact.

Source: Vox

Stir-fried King Prawns with Asparagus and Baby Corn

Ingredients

400 g king prawns
4 spears fresh green asparagus
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 tablespoon ginger julienne
4 spears fresh baby corn
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine
1/4 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup finely sliced fresh black cloud ear fungus
1/4 teaspoon black vinegar
1 tablespoon roughly chopped coriander

Method

  1. Peel and devein the prawns, but leave the tail intact. Butterfly the prawns by making a shallow cut along the back – this helps them to cook quickly and evenly.
  2. Trim woody ends from asparagus spears and slice into 5 cm lengths on the diagonal.
  3. Heat peanut oil in a hot wok and stir-fry prawns for 1 minute.
  4. Add ginger, asparagus and baby corn and stir-fry for 1 minute.
  5. Pour in wine and simmer for 10 seconds. Add sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add stock, then simmer for 2 minutes or until prawns are just tender.
  6. Finally, add cloud ear fungus, vinegar and coriander. Stir to combine, then serve immediately.

Source: Kylie Kwong

In Pictures: Food of The Eight Restaurant in Macau

A Mix of Cantonese and Huaiyang Cuisine

The Michelin 3-star Restaurant

Understanding the Risky Combination of Diabetes and the Coronavirus

While most people are anxious about the coronavirus, people with underlying conditions such as diabetes may be especially so.

On top of life’s usual demands, new strain related to the pandemic is taking a toll, said Jacqueline Alikhaani, a Los Angeles resident and volunteer heart health advocate. Alikhaani has diabetes, a serious congenital heart condition called anomalous origin of the right coronary artery, and other chronic conditions.

She worries about safely getting food, medicine, protective and other supplies, family financial losses, maintaining her household and caring for loved ones. Since the coronavirus crisis began, she has not slept as well, had problems getting medication refills, recorded some high blood sugar readings and is consulting with her doctors about an increase in intermittent chest pain, which she attributes to the stress.

“It’s really frightening these days. I’m seeing that the risks are higher for people who have diabetes and heart disease,” said Alikhaani, who is focusing on watching her diet, exercising, monitoring her blood sugar and blood pressure, and keeping her doctor updated. “I’m trying to learn more, understand and take precautions, stay on top of diabetic and heart health needs, and encouraging others to do the same.”

As of late March, preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for about 7,100 U.S. coronavirus patients showed that along with older age, various health conditions — most commonly diabetes, chronic lung disease and heart disease — put patients at risk of developing severe viral illness.

Specifically among intensive care patients with COVID-19, 32% had diabetes. For hospitalized COVID-19 patients not in the ICU, 24% had diabetes. Yet for people with COVID-19 who did not require hospitalization, only 6% had diabetes.

Earlier, more extensive research from China published in JAMA showed a 2% fatality rate among COVID-19 patients. But this rate jumped to about 10% for those who also had cardiovascular disease and to about 7% among those with diabetes. A report from Italy found among 481 patients who died of the virus, about one-third had diabetes. That represents a risk of death five times higher than would be expected based on diabetes’ overall prevalence in Italy, said Dr. Robert Eckel, an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

While there’s much to learn about COVID-19, its course in people with diabetes appears to loosely parallel that of influenza. Outcomes are less stable, ventilators are more commonly needed, and severe complications are more likely in people with diabetes who get the flu, said Eckel, current president of medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association.

The reasons are complicated. In people with Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance gives rise to chronic, low-grade inflammation, leaving the immune system dulled by this ongoing state of alert. New infections are like “crying wolf” — the immune system does not rally quickly and adequately, therefore allowing the virus to gain and maintain a foothold.

But the flu is not as dangerous as COVID-19 infection. And in COVID-19 patients with diabetes, additional risk factors such as heart disease, sometimes undiagnosed, are compounding the problem, said Eckel, who also is a past president of the American Heart Association.

Doctors’ experience with bacterial infections indicates that controlling blood sugar before and during infection can be helpful. During the crisis, Eckel advises hospitalized COVID-19 patients who have diabetes to ensure their glucose is carefully managed — and to monitor it themselves, with their own supplies, if they are able.

A diabetes complication called diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, is a risk with other viral infections and a concern in coronavirus patients, he said. DKA occurs when an absolute or relative insulin deficiency prevents cells from using glucose for energy and they burn fat instead, creating chemicals called ketones that build up in the blood and can be toxic.

Amid a serious infection, Eckel said, diabetes drugs called SGLT2 inhibitors contribute to an increased risk for DKA. Patients with COVID-19 should talk to their doctor about stopping these medications at the time of hospitalization, and possibly sooner.

Another diabetes drug, metformin, also might need to be discontinued in hospitalized coronavirus patients, he said. Under extreme circumstances, including dehydration and kidney disease, metformin could foster acidosis and even exacerbate kidney disease when intravenous contrast agents are used in imaging.

Outside the hospital, the ADA recommends keeping blood sugar well controlled and consulting health care professionals about managing risk and any viral symptoms. If feeling very ill — including higher fever with cough and shortness of breath — people should seek emergency care.

“Patients with diabetes need to be alert about not delaying if they’re getting sick, particularly over a short time interval,” Eckel said.

Alikhaani is an ambassador for Know Diabetes by Heart, a joint initiative of the AHA and ADA to reduce cardiovascular complications in people with Type 2 diabetes. She believes that ultimately more knowledge about COVID-19 will help the public avoid infection and improve self-care.

“People can partner with their doctors better when they understand more about the mechanics of what’s going on,” she said.

For now, Alikhaani is leaning a lot on faith, family and community. She said when the crisis passes and everyday life resumes, there could be a silver lining. “Maybe when we go back, we’ll see that we might not miss everything that right now we think we are missing.”

Source: American Heart Association

Study: Brain Plaques Signal Alzheimer’s Even Before Other Symptoms Emerge

Even before symptoms develop, the brains of people with early Alzheimer’s disease have high levels of amyloid protein plaques, a new study reveals.

Those levels in older adults with no dementia symptoms are associated with a family history of disease, lower scores on thinking/memory tests, and declines in daily mental function.

The first findings from the so-called A4 study funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA) were published recently in the journal JAMA Neurology. A4 stands for Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study — due for completion in late 2022 — is an ongoing trial that was launched in 2014. It’s investigating whether the drug solanezumab can slow mental decline associated with elevated amyloids if people start taking it before Alzheimer’s symptoms emerge.

Amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, has been the target of experimental treatments in clinical trials involving people who already have symptoms of the disease.

“A major issue for amyloid-targeting Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials, and one that is being addressed with the A4 study, is that previous trials may have been intervening too late in the disease process to be effective,” said NIA director Dr. Richard Hodes.

“A4 is pioneering in the field because it targets amyloid accumulation in older adults at risk for developing dementia before the onset of symptoms,” he noted in a NIA news release.

The researchers used amyloid positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to screen nearly 4,500 older adults for the study. The investigators identified and enrolled more than 1,300 with high amyloid levels in the brain, but no Alzheimer’s symptoms.

The study was the first to use PET to identify people with high levels of amyloid but no signs of mental (“cognitive”) decline, according to Laurie Ryan, chief of the NIA’s Dementias of Aging branch.

“Before the availability of amyloid PET, other amyloid-targeting clinical trials may have been testing therapies in some people who didn’t have amyloid,” she said in the news release.

Lead author Dr. Reisa Sperling, of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said screening data for all those who had PET scans is available to other researchers. It may help improve screening and enrollment in other trials designed to prevent Alzheimer’s in people without symptoms, she said.

According to Ryan, “A4 demonstrates that prevention trials can enroll high-risk individuals — people with biomarkers for Alzheimer’s who are cognitively normal. Ultimately, precision medicine approaches will be essential.”

She predicted that Alzheimer’s disease will never have a “one-size-fits-all” treatment. “We’re likely to need different treatments, even combinations of therapies, for different individuals based on their risk factors,” Ryan explained.

Source: HealthDay


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