Coronavirus and food: What you need to know about eating out and stockpiling goods –

Restaurant News

Coronavirus is all that’s on anyone’s lips at the moment.

But when it comes to food, should we be concerned right now about what’s actually touching our lips and going in those bellies?

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According to Julian Cox, Associate Professor of Food Microbiology at UNSW, there’s no readily available evidence that suggests the virus can transmit through food – but we should be mindful of foodservice and contamination.

“Our previous research from previous viruses tells us it’s about transmission from person to person, but there is no evidence at this point that it can be transmitted via food,” Cox said.

“People have got the message that by staying away from people, you will be safer. Getting together in a restaurant is something we are used to doing, but if we think we’re going to come into contact with a virus, that’s a problem.

“I think the whole idea of transmissibility of bad bugs generally is a possibility.

“But again, I don’t think there’s evidence to suggest that coronavirus will survive very well outside of an aerosol from someone coughing or sneezing.

“There’s been contention about using gloves in food preparation – sometimes people might feel they’re too safe and secure, and while they’re wearing gloves they still do the wrong thing in terms of food and personal hygiene – so gloves aren’t a magical barrier in terms of food safety.”

No need to stockpile

As the coronavirus continues, people have resorted to panic-buying and stocking up on pantry ingredients – but with such long shelf lives on dry goods, Cox advises we shouldn’t be buying more than we need.

“If we’re talking about things that we generally classify as dry goods, they have a very long shelf life,” Cox said.

“Canned foods, in particular, are what we call commercially sterile – under normal storage conditions, they will last for months or years.

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“They may deteriorate slowly in terms of quality of taste, flavour and so forth – but they’ll remain safe.

“But we don’t need to stockpile – there’ll be plenty to go around for years to come.”

Understanding ‘best before’ dates

“Use by dates and best before dates vary from product to product,” Cox said.

“As a general rule of thumb, fresher products like normal pasteurised milk has a shelf life of roughly 10 days – and that really depends on how well we’re operating our fridge at home.

“If we’re talking about something like yoghurt, where it’s actually preserved through the process of fermentation, then that will last weeks – and it’s often good for up to a month past its use-by date.

“It’ll continue to get more acidic from the process by which it’s made in the first place, and the taste may change a little bit – but typically it remains safe. Although if you open the carton and find fungus inside, throw it out.

“With cheese, be careful – because some moulds are used to make cheeses, but some can produce poisons called mycotoxins which can be very poisonous to the body – so if you’re unsure, throw it out.”

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