Health Experts Say There’s No Evidence the Coronavirus Can Be Transmitted Through Food

Health Experts Say There’s No Evidence the Coronavirus Can Be Transmitted Through Food

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Here’s the bottom line: Doctors and health experts have repeatedly said the coronavirus is not likely to be transmitted by food.

You might have seen reports this week that Chinese authorities said a surface sample from a batch of frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil tested positive for coronavirus.

But don’t panic.

Yes, the virus was detected on the food product in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, according to a statement from the municipal government. Officials did not name the brand.

But test results for people who might have had contact with the chicken wings have so far come back negative, the statement said, and tracing is underway for products from the same brand that have already been sold. Meantime, one expert said tests of the chicken might have detected genetic material from dead coronavirus, which can cause false positives. Chicken wings test positive for Covid-19 in China, but there’s no evidence of food transmission, experts say.

Here’s the bottom line: Doctors and health experts have repeatedly said the coronavirus is not likely to be transmitted by food.

Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which investigates foodborne and waterborne illnesses, previously said there was no evidence that Covid-19 is “foodborne-driven or food service-driven.” “This really is respiratory, person-to-person,” Williams said. “At this point there is no evidence really pointing us towards food (or) food service as ways that are driving the epidemic.”

Covid-19 is largely spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks when they’re within 6 feet of another person, according to the CDC. The best ways to prevent the spread is by social distancing, wearing a mask, thoroughly washing your hands and covering a cough or sneeze.

Williams’ point was reiterated more recently by the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture, which said in a joint statement in June there is “no evidence” people can contract the virus from food or food packaging.

Now, per the CDC, it is possible you could get Covid-19 by touching a contaminated surface, including food packaging, and then touching your face. But you can reduce the risk by washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling food packaging.

Unlikely virus will persist after shipping, WHO says

 International experts also seem to agree.

“People should not fear food or food packaging or the processing or delivery of food,” Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, said Thursday. “I would hate to think that we would create an impression that there’s a problem with our food or there’s a problem with our food chains,” he said. “There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus, and people should feel comfortable and feel safe.”

The WHO previously said it is “highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging,” reiterating Covid-19 is a respiratory illness primarily spread person-to-person.

Additionally, it’s unlikely the coronavirus would be transmitted through goods manufactured elsewhere, per the WHO. “Even though the new coronavirus can stay on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days (depending on the type of surface), it is very unlikely that the virus will persist on a surface after being moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures,” the WHO said.

If you’re still uneasy, know that your body has another line of defense. Even if the coronavirus got into your food, your stomach acid would kill it, according to Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University.

“When you eat any kind of food, whether it be hot or cold, that food is going to go straight down into your stomach, where there’s a high acidity, low-pH environment that will inactivate the virus,” she said.

In the case of the chicken wings in Shenzhen, David Hui Shu-cheong, a respiratory medicine expert at the University of Hong Kong, said they were likely contaminated during packaging. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re infectious.

The tests could be picking up the RNA — the genetic material — of dead coronavirus, he said, which has been known to cause false positive results in patients who have recovered from Covid-19.


Contributor: Dakin Andone, CNN

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What the FDA’s Relaxed Food Label Rules Mean for People with Allergies

What the FDA's Relaxed Food Label Rules Mean for People with Allergies

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The agency’s action is alarming consumers who rely on ingredient labels to stay safe.
To avoid potential food-supply-chain disruptions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration announced last month that it has temporarily relaxed food labeling guidelines, allowing manufacturers of packaged foods to substitute certain ingredients without changing the labels.

The guidance was meant to head off issues that could arise if manufacturers were to have trouble obtaining ingredients, and pertains only to ingredients that are present in foods in relatively small amounts.

But it immediately raised alarm for people with allergies or special dietary needs who need to know with certainty what’s in the food they eat. Almost 3,000 consumers have written to the FDA to express their concern.

“All I do is teach my child how to read food labels and how to be careful, and now the government is saying that might not work and he might have a deadly reaction?” says Debbie Tola of Denver, whose son is severely allergic to numerous foods—some of them among the top eight allergens (which include peanuts and eggs) but also others that are less common. “If I can’t trust the labels, how am I supposed to know what is or isn’t safe for my child to eat?” Consumer Reports is not aware of any public reports of adverse events resulting from this guidance to date, but numerous food safety groups say that the temporary rules are still cause for serious concern.

Shortly after the FDA issued the announcement on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, parents, individuals, and consumer advocacy groups—including the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA), and Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)—mobilized with petitions and letters to the FDA requesting more transparency about food labels. And they say there is confusion among consumers regarding the new FDA rules.

What the FDA Food Label Guidance Says

The FDA states that the ingredient being substituted into a food cannot be one of the top eight food allergens without disclosing it to consumers. (In addition to peanuts and eggs, the other main allergens are milk, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, and soybeans.)

But beyond those eight, the guidance is more vague. It says manufacturers “should avoid” using as substitutes other foods that are known to cause allergies or food sensitivities, including sesame, celery, buckwheat, glutamates, and sulfites. But the guidelines allow manufacturers to make decisions about what constitutes a health and safety risk at their own discretion, without any transparency or accountability, or reporting to the FDA that they’ve done so.

Even more concerning and confusing to consumers: The FDA guidance specifically states that the temporary rules do “not establish legally enforceable responsibilities” and “should be viewed only as recommendations… The use of the word should in our guidance means that something is suggested or recommended, but not required.”

When Consumer Reports asked the FDA how it will ensure that companies comply with the new food safety recommendations, the spokesperson pointed to the information posted on the agency’s website but did not specifically comment.

Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the CSPI, says the FDA guidance undermines transparency and puts consumers who must avoid even small amounts of certain ingredients at risk. “The FDA has tried to hedge against that risk by asking food companies to disclose any ingredients that pose a ‘health or safety issue,’” she says. But that’s insufficient, she believes, because food companies cannot know what consumers who have rare allergies or medical conditions might consider to be a health or safety risk for them.

Tola finds this directive terrifying. “I honestly can’t believe the FDA has allowed this. It’s so hard to be an allergy parent, to constantly monitor and worry about food,” she says. “We’re already so careful, the least we expect is that a label would be properly identified and that a manufacturer would be required to take the small amount of time and money to put a sticker on something to alert us that ingredients may have changed. It seriously alarms me that the government is essentially saying that they’re not overseeing it and they’re not protecting everyone.”

Lisa Gable, CEO of FARE, says that since the guidance was issued, she has met with 30 major food companies and organizations, including the industry group Food and Beverage Issue Alliance (FBIA), and was told that none of those companies have yet had to make any ingredient substitutions. But if substitutions do become necessary, FARE and other food safety groups have asked that manufacturers place temporary labeling stickers on products or post ingredient changes on their websites, at retailer’s websites that sell their goods, or on SmartLabel (an app that provides detailed information on food labels).

An FBIA spokesperson stated that “substitutions or changes would only be executed when it is temporarily necessary to do so in order to keep food products available to consumers, and any needed substitution will be communicated to the consumer on a manufacturer’s website or at point-of-sale.”

The concern with this approach, Sorscher says, is that “the FDA hasn’t required the industry to report these changes publicly or even privately to the agency, so there is no way to track the impact.”

What the FDA Guidance Means for You

So what should you do if you or someone in your family has a food allergy or follows a special diet? “While it sounds like it probably won’t be an issue for most of my patients, if they are worried about their allergy to a nonmajor allergen and they have a product they depend on, I advise them to call the manufacturer and confirm everything is okay and hasn’t changed,” says Scott H. Sicherer, M.D., director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and author of “Food Allergies: A Complete Guide to Eating When Your Life Depends on It.”

Gable at FARE also suggests that consumers make their voices heard by registering any concerns on the FDA’s website or by writing to the industry group representing manufacturers at info@feedingus.org.

The CSPI’s Sorscher also encourages consumers to be diligent about following up with manufacturers in the coming months because the FDA has not set an end date for these temporary rules, which she fears could linger and become permanent. “It’s troubling that the agency has discussed extending the policy for an indefinite period beyond the current pandemic,” Sorscher says. “We don’t want to see the pandemic become an excuse to roll back regulatory safeguards in the name of promoting ‘flexibility’ for businesses.”


Contributor: Rachel Rabkin Peachman-Consumer Reports

7 Tips to Prevent Burnout and Improve Wellness Working From Home

7 Tips to Prevent Burnout and Improve Wellness Working From Home

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According to an American Psychological Association study in May, the average reported stress level for U.S. adults related to the coronavirus pandemic was 5.9 out of 10.
For many employees, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sudden collision between their work and home lives.

Roughly four months after initial lockdowns, the country is in the process of reopening. But this has been a difficult and disruptive period for most people.

Lockdowns caused a sudden shift in working environments for employees whose companies might not have had the proper infrastructure, policies or resources in place to support remote work. Roles, responsibilities and priorities have rapidly shifted, both professionally and personally.

We have made some adjustments to this new normal, but uncertainty and stress remain for when a true return to normal is possible.

“These are very uncertain and scary times,” said Stephanie Andel, an assistant professor of psychology at IUPUI. “Many employees are likely to experience feelings of stress, anxiety and even fear. These feelings are completely normal and valid. It is important to remember that we remain in the midst of a pandemic, one that continues to impact virtually all aspects of life.”

Set boundaries

With no office to relocate to and the physical action of a commute replaced by a short walk from the bedroom to a different location in the home, it can be difficult to maintain a clear separation between professional and personal time. Andel’s first tip was to create work boundaries in both time space.

“Once you get to the end of the workday, put your work tasks aside,” Andel said. “Focus on deliberately engaging in an activity that helps you to detach from work and transition into a non-work mindset. Even if you must physically remain in the same space, you can trick yourself into creating some mental boundaries.”

Andel recommended that employees create a designated workspace at home where distractions are limited and use space to provide mental separation.

“Working from home can produce feelings of role confusion, like everything is melding together between your work life and your non-work life,” Andel said. “Am I supposed to be a Mom right now or a coworker? It can be difficult, but maintaining that structure around your workday can help alleviate those feelings of confusion.”

Find a routine, but not too much of one

“Today is … Thursday? No, wait. It’s Tuesday.”

A common experience for many during the pandemic is losing track of the day of the week. When engaged in repetitive activities such as working from home and staying in the same physical environment for successive days, Groundhog Day Syndrome can come into play.

Named after the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray as a weatherman who keeps reliving the same day, the syndrome was defined in Psychology Today as “the feeling of living the same thing over and over again or feeling stuck in an everyday routine, which makes it seem like life is passing you by.”

Routines are helpful to define boundaries, but being too rigid in a routine can make life monotonous.

Outside of finding a new passion or hobby, Andel said that you are likely to feel better by making small and subtle changes to your daily routine. Try to make a new coffee drink or recipe. Try different activities during your lunch break, like taking a walk or sampling a new TV show.

“It is really important to create little moments of joy each day,” Andel said. “If we don’t make a conscious effort to add some novelty into our daily routines, it is easy to feel like you are stuck in a rut.”

Show compassion toward yourself

Navigating such tumultuous times can be helped by learning and engaging in practices of self-compassion. Andel defines self-compassion as “the tendency to extend compassion and kindness toward oneself in instances of perceived inadequacies, failure or general suffering.”

She said it may seem strange to treat compassion as a skill, but often we can be our own worst critic. The practice of self-compassion as a skill starts with examining your own internalized self-talk, those little conversations we have with ourselves. When we have failed at something or done something wrong, our internal narrative is often something to the effect of, “I am a loser. Why am I so terrible at this? Get it together.”

Andel said that people frequently measure themselves to excessively high standards, when they deserve kindness and compassion. Instead of being harsh to oneself, she recommends that individuals try to think of what they would say to a friend in the same circumstances.

“Small tweaks to that internal dialogue can be incredibly powerful,” she said. “Research consistently shows that self-compassion is a skill that can be learned and that it’s practice is associated with significant positive effects for health and well-being”

Be proactive in creating safe social opportunities

Because of the rapidly-changing public health situation and people’s varying levels of comfort with different types of social interactions, identifying safe opportunities for social activity is critical. The circumstances of COVID-19 lend to a higher likelihood of people experiencing loneliness and isolation.

Virtual social events such as video trivia contests, game nights and group chats provide the chance to catch up with friends and family members with time that you might not have had before. If trying to spend face-to-face time with other people, make sure to take the necessary health precautions.

“Try to brainstorm some creative ways to have social interaction while maintaining physical distancing,” Andel said. “This can be a profoundly isolating time, so it is more important than ever to identify safe ways of maintaining social connections.”

Parents have to engage in self-care

In May, the American Psychological Association released a study finding that parents are reporting higher levels of stress related to the coronavirus pandemic than non-parents.

For those with young children, childcare facilities were — or are still — closed. School-age children transitioned to remote learning before summer break. These changes mean that attention-starved children are in the home which often force parents to maintain a difficult balance between work and family.

“As working parents continue to juggle multiple responsibilities, they are especially prone to feeling overwhelmed and exhausted,” Andel said.

It’s important for parents to dedicate energy to maintaining a balanced diet and finding time for exercise and relaxation, if possible said Andel. If there are two parents in the home, it can be helpful to “divide and conquer” household duties to ensure that both parents are able to meet their work goals while also providing necessary care for children.

It’s become commonplace to have a kid sit on a lap during a Zoom meeting or to announce their presence with screams in the background. In the past, such distractions were discouraged in professional settings, but they have become increasingly accepted as part of this new normal.

“It seems that the standards and expectations are changing, and now seeing co-workers’ children or pets in the background of the video is often welcomed,” Andel said. “I think those situations help to illustrate this idea of common humanity, that we really are all in this together.”

Take time off

While many traditional vacations and activities may be off limits for the time being, disconnecting and recharging can be helpful if you are able to take time off.

When dealing with the daily stresses of life and trying to balance work and home responsibilities, detaching from being on the clock is something Andel recommends.

“We expend a lot of energy when we are working,” she said. “Taking time off allows us to rebuild our mental resources so that we are less likely to burn out.”

Measure productivity differently

 We are currently in the middle of a pandemic, there’s an increased spotlight on social issues like racism, sexism and police-community relations, and we live in a polarized political environment. People are dealing with issues around the clock that are not solely work-based.

In terms of measuring worker productivity during the pandemic, Andel said that organizational leaders must recognize that like everyone else, their employees are likely to be under a great deal of stress right now. Expecting productivity to resemble pre-pandemic levels may not be realistic and she suggests that organizations cut their employees some slack.

“We are in the midst of a unique and very stressful public health crisis,” Andel said. “It is important for organizational leaders to acknowledge that this situation is inevitably going to impact employee productivity and personal well-being, and to offer additional supports to their employees.”


Contributor: Justin Whitaker-Indiana University