Facing Facts: Coronavirus, Food Safety and The Media

Coronavirus is a deadly pandemic that should be taken seriously. There is no question about that. However, how the media reports on it and the studies that purport to offer insight into it need to take the same sober and detailed approach or risk presenting misinformation.

A new Fox News headline announces Live coronavirus found on meat, seafood weeks later, researchers say.

Let’s unpack this

For starters, the report out of Singapore and Ireland is not peer reviewed. It also does not conclude that anyone anywhere has ever contracted coronavirus from food or food packaging. Instead, it notes the work simply examines a “hypothesis.”

In fact, the new report itself states clearly, “it can be confidently argued that transmission via contaminated food is not a major infection route.” But experts at the World Health Organization go a step further when they note there is “no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging.”

“People should not fear food, or food packaging”

With no evidence, the authors of this insufficiently tested supposition insinuate that imported food may have contributed to outbreaks in certain countries. All of this in the face of WHO statements that make clear, “people should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food.”

Writing on the most up to date and reliable science is important during this pandemic. It is irresponsible to report on research that is not peer reviewed and postulates theories far outside the study’s actual focus.

Experts Say It’s Time to Focus on Facts

Experts in Food Science, like Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus (William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor, NC  State University),  note how important it is to keep the focus where the most good can be done; “The overwhelmingly higher and most significant mode of disease transmission is through exchange or release of respiratory droplets laden with the virus, with transmission facilitated by close contact to an infected individual actively shedding the virus. Expending resources on unsubstantiated foodborne routes threatens our efforts to focus on control strategies we know work against respiratory spread.”