As of today 719,037, of our friends and neighbors have died from SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).  However, perhaps, at least in the foodborne illness space, there might be some good news?

The CDC reported today on the Decreased Incidence of Infections Caused by Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food During the COVID-19 Pandemic — Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, 10 U.S. Sites, 2017–2020.

According to the CDC, there has been a 26% decrease in incidence of infections caused by pathogens transmitted commonly through food during 2020 which was the largest single-year variation in incidence during 25 years of FoodNet surveillance.

The questions posed by the CDC in part were answered and in part not.

1.     Did widespread public health interventions implemented to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission might have contributed to this decrease? For example, infections associated with international travel decreased markedly after pandemic-related travel restrictions were imposed. Other interventions, such as restaurant closures, might have contributed to declines in incidence.

2.     However, a higher than usual proportion of infections might have been undetected because factors such as changes in health care-seeking behaviors, and broader use of telehealth might have limited the number of stool specimens tested.

3.     Marked decreases in emergency department visits for abdominal pain and other digestive or abdominal signs and symptoms occurred early in the pandemic which would have decreased reports of foodborne illnesses.

4.     Of concern was the proportion of infections resulting in hospitalization increased slightly; possible explanations include disproportionate decreases in health care-seeking among those with milder illness or delayed health care-seeking resulting in more severe illness at the time of clinical presentation.

5.     Changes in clinical and public health laboratory capacity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic might have contributed to observed decreases in culturing. Before 2020, culture of specimens positive for CampylobacterSalmonellaShigella, and Yersinia increased in FoodNet sites, augmented by CDC funding. However, fewer cultures decrease the ability to detect and investigate outbreaks and sporadic cases of emerging pathogens, which relies on sequencing.

6.     The incidences of Salmonella Infantis, Cyclospora, and Yersinia infections, which had previously been increasing, did not change, possibly because of continuing prepandemic factors that led to rising incidences during previous years; the stable incidences despite the pandemic suggest that they might have increased otherwise.

7.     As pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, illnesses caused by these pathogens and by Hadar, the one Salmonella serotype with increasing incidence, should be closely monitored. Rising multidrug resistant Salmonella Infantis infections have been linked to consumption of chicken. Hadar infections have been linked to backyard flocks and to consumption of turkey. USDA-FSIS did not detect a significantly higher percentage of Salmonella Hadar in raw poultry samples collected in 2020 compared with 2017–2019. Typhimurium continued to decline in rank among Salmonella serotypes, dropping to fourth most common for the first time.

The CDC noted that the findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, the pandemic and corresponding public health response make explaining changes in the observed incidences of infections challenging. Second, changes in health care-seeking behaviors and health care delivery during the pandemic likely limited ascertainment of cases. Finally, sites reported decreases that varied over time in the willingness of ill persons to be interviewed and in staff member capacity to conduct case interviews; these factors might have resulted in missing data and recall bias.

After more than a year since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak was declared a global health emergency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to underscore that there is no credible evidence of food or food packaging associated with or as a likely source of viral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing COVID-19.

Our confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply remains steadfast. Consumers should be reassured that we continue to believe, based on our understanding of currently available reliable scientific information, and supported by overwhelming international scientific consensus, that the foods they eat and food packaging they touch are highly unlikely to spread SARS-CoV-2.

It’s particularly important to note that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is spread from person to person, unlike foodborne or gastrointestinal viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food. While there are relatively few reports of the virus being detected on food and packaging, most studies focus primarily on the detection of the virus’ genetic fingerprint rather than evidence of transmission of virus resulting in human infection. Given that the number of virus particles that could be theoretically picked up by touching a surface would be very small and the amount needed for infection via oral inhalation would be very high, the chances of infection by touching the surface of food packaging or eating food is considered to be extremely low.

The USDA and the FDA are sharing this update based upon the best available information from scientific bodies across the globe, including a continued international consensus that the risk is exceedingly low for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans via food and food packaging. For example, a recent opinion from the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF)External Link Disclaimer, stated: “Despite the billions of meals and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 resulting in COVID-19.” Additional literature reviewsExternal Link Disclaimer and analysesExternal Link Disclaimer from other countries agree.

In addition, considering the more than 100 million cases of COVID-19, we have not seen epidemiological evidence of food or food packaging as the source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to humans. Furthermore, transmission has not been attributed to food products or packaging through national and international surveillance systems. Food business operations continue to produce a steady supply of safe food following current Good Manufacturing Practices and preventive controls, focusing on good hygiene practices and keeping workers safe.

Based on the scientific information that continues to be made available over the course of the pandemic, the USDA and FDA continue to be confident in the safety of the food available to American consumers and exported to international customers.

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19.

Coronaviruses, like the one that causes COVID-19, are thought to spread mostly person-to-person through respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks. It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food or food packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

After shopping, handling food packages, or before preparing or eating food, it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizerexternal icon that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Remember, it is always important to follow good food safety practices to reduce the risk of illness from common foodborne pathogens.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers about alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are being packaged in containers that may appear as food or drinksexternal icon and some that contain food flavors. Eating or drinking these products can cause serious injury or death.

Very low risk of getting COVID-19 from food and packaging or treated drinking water

The risk of getting COVID-19 from food you cook yourself or from handling and consuming food from restaurants and takeout or drive-thru meals is thought to be very low. Currently, there is no evidence that food is associated with spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.
The risk of infection by the virus from food products, food packaging, or bags is thought to be very low. Currently, no cases of COVID-19 have been identified where infection was thought to have occurred by touching food, food packaging, or shopping bags.
Although some people who work in food production and processing facilities have gotten COVID-19, there is no evidence of the virus spreading to consumers through the food or packaging that workers in these facilities may have handled.

Use proper food safety practices when handling food and before, during and after preparing or eating food.

Currently, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads to people through food. However, it is important to safely handle and continue to cook foods to their recommended cooking temperaturesexternal icon to prevent foodborne illness.
The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been found in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates water treatment plants to ensure that treated water is safe to drink.
Clean surfaces

Regularly clean kitchen counters and use a disinfectant product from EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19)external icon. Follow the manufacturer’s directions. Before preparing food on the kitchen counter, rinse disinfected surface with water. WARNING: Do not use disinfecting products on food or food packaging.Learn moreexternal icon about shopping for food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If someone in your home is sick, clean and disinfect “high-touch” surfaces daily such as handles, kitchen countertops, faucets, light switches, and doorknobs.

Half of our population thinks the pandemic is a “hoax,” will not wear masks and will not take the vaccine when available.

Politicians who encouraged organized ignorance are now being vaccinated as they refuse a $2,000 check to needy constituents.

What a damn mess and embarrassment.  We have become one of the President’s “Shit hole countries.”

We should have long ago encouraged everyone to social distance, wear masks and wash hands – our illness and death toll would have been significantly less.  Leaders should have spoken with one voice to encourage science-based behavior instead of politicizing it.  We all should be marching (masked and with clean hands) in the same direction (several feet apart).

People whose jobs were negatively impacted by lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus should have been given subsidies to lessen the financial impacts.  People should never have been put in the position of choosing safety over putting food on their tables or paying rent.

People who have been able to work remotely and not lose income – especially those who have actually financially benefited from COVID-19 – should have helped pay the cost of stabilizing our economy.  I paraphrase: “To those who much have been given, much is expected.”

This did not have to be our fate.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) today announced it has issued cease-and-desist orders to The Pizza Depot, in Becker, and Hooligans Lakeside, in Lake Park, after determining that the facilities had violated executive orders designed to protect its employees, customers and community from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governor Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-99 on Nov. 18. The executive order prohibits bars and restaurants from offering on-premises dining. The executive order was issued at a time of rapid acceleration in the spread of COVID-19 across Minnesota and sought to protect Minnesotans while also preventing hospitals and health care systems from becoming overwhelmed by the surge in cases.

On Dec. 16, MDH inspected The Pizza Depot in Becker. During the inspection, MDH staff found the establishment was open for on-premises consumption of food and beverage in violation of Executive Order 20-99.

On Dec. 17, MDH inspected Hooligans Lakeside in Lake Park. During the inspection, MDH staff found the establishment was open for on-premises consumption in violation of Executive Order 20-99.

According to MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff, enforcement actions are a last resort when it is clear that education and outreach are not sufficient to help a regulated establishment come into compliance with requirements.

“COVID-19 protocols are designed to slow the spread of this virus and reduce the impacts of this pandemic,” said MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff. “Our preference is always to work with business to bring them into compliance, and we consider regulatory actions as a last resort. The vast majority of businesses are doing their best to help slow down the spread of COVID-19, and we owe it to them to have a consistent and fair enforcement approach.”

Earlier this year, two diners at a South Korean restaurant were infected with novel coronavirus in a matter of minutes from a third patron who sat at least 15 feet away from them. The third patron was asymptomatic at the time. After dissecting that scene from June, South Korean researchers released a study last month in the Journal of Korean Medical Science that suggests the virus, under certain airflow conditions, travels farther than six feet and can infect others in as little as five minutes.

The study appears to be more bad news for restaurants, which have already been identified in research as a primary source for the spread of the virus. The Korean researchers recommend that public health authorities update safety guidelines based on their study, arguing that six feet of space between tables is not enough to protect diners from being infected.

Yes, we need to protect customers, but we also need to do all we can to support restaurants and restaurant workers.