When the COVID-19 pandemic became news in the United States early this year, some consumers and others wondered if it might be spread by food or food packaging. Food scientist Michelle Danyluk says there is no epidemiological evidence that COVID-19 is spread that way. “But epidemiological evidence isn’t the same as hard science data,” she adds. Consequently, she and other scientists at several universities are working “to really try to prove a negative” – that the disease is not foodborne.
Danyluk is a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) professor at the Citrus Research and Education Center. Her teammates are other UF/IFAS scientists and researchers at North Carolina State University, Rutgers University and the University of Nebraska. They were awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant in mid-August.
The team funded by the USDA is doing research to better understand the virus’ potential to spread within the food industry. “We anticipate it (the potential for COVID-19 to spread by food or food packaging) will be really low; we certainly expect it to be very low,” she says.
“We’re really looking to generate some data to show that food, including something like citrus, is really not a risk factor that anyone needs to worry about, because we know it is something that people do worry about,” Danyluk says.
The grant also includes a large Extension component, involving training along the food chain, from packinghouses to retail employees and finally for consumers – “communicating the risk to those groups,” Danyluk says. “We are actively moving on the project,” she adds. Information is already available on a new website, and the team is hoping for results “within the next six months.”
This interview with Danyluk is featured in the October episode of the All In For Citrus podcast, a joint project of UF/IFAS and AgNet Media. Listen to the full podcast here.
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