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COVID-19: Let’s not have a repeat

Posted: 20 April 2020 | | 2 comments

In this first ever edition of Chris’ Corner, Professor Chris Elliott, ponders over how COVID-19 began and stresses the importance of basic hygiene and a global review on food safety.

chris corner

Welcome to Chris’ Corner; a new column written by me, Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety at Queen’s University, Belfast.   

I’m delighted to be given this opportunity by New Food to discuss (and perhaps rant a little) about things concerning food. If you would like me to discuss (rant) about any particular topic, please let me know by leaving a comment below or sending New Food a tweet, Linkedin or Facebook post with the hashtag #ChrisCorner.

In this first column, I direct my attention to the issues relating to the food we are eating today and, possibly, in the future. Is there a link between food and COVID-19? The answer seems to be yes.

Wuhan’s wet market

Many believe this novel strand of coronavirus started in that infamous wet market in Wuhan, China. For those of you who are not familiar with the concept of wet markets, these are places where live animals are brought, slaughtered and sold that day, usually in the early mornings. I have observed many of these during my travels around Asia; it is a big part of their culture. The big question is what was the trigger for the development of a brand new and lethal virus in Wuhan? I have a theory about this (be warned, I have lots of theories…).

Wet market in Asia

Wet market in Asia

China has been struck with a massive outbreak of African Swine Fever and, as a result, has lost over half of its enormous pig herd (approx. 350 million animals in size!). This has left a massive protein deficit in China; one which has been extremely difficult to replace. So what happens when a gap forms? People will try and fill it.

I believe this is what has happened in China, with the wet markets being filled with a huge variety of wild animals that would not normally come together. One study of the COVID-19 virus suggests it is a mix of a bat virus with a pangolin virus. Arguably then, it could be determined that these animals coming together in this way sparked an event which should never have occurred; a combination of viruses which were never meant to meet.

Whether this theory is correct or not, I believe there must be a global effort around the ‘One Health’ agenda. Again, for those not familiar with this term, One Health is defined as “the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally, to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment”.  Thus, a major issue in either animal health or our environment may well be the trigger for massive human health issues. We must stop this happening again.

Food packaging and basic hygiene

There was an important document published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently around food and food packaging in terms of risks of exposure to COVID-19, in which they concluded the opportunity for transmission as very low. I fully agree with this.

I do, however, recommend treating food packaging, or indeed any packaging, as a surface. When handing a piece of packaging, wash your hands before touching your mouth. Hand washing has always been a vital tool when it comes to basic hygiene.

Equally, how we store, prepare and cook our food remains just as important, as this will reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Indeed, the world may have changed in the face of this pandemic, but the simple rules of good food hygiene have not. So just follow them…now and always.

Interested in hearing more from Prof Chris Elliott and COVID-19?

Listen to our latest podcast here.

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2 responses to “COVID-19: Let’s not have a repeat”

  1. Aoife says:

    Very interesting and plausible theory, looking forward to reading and hearing more for you.

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