Can You Clean Coronavirus Off Your Food?

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, I’ve covered advice for how to effectively clean your hands and disinfect surfaces around your home, but what about food, like takeout and fresh produce? Could eating contaminated food cause you to contract the illness?

According to News Channel 8,1 Virginia police are “warning of a ‘disturbing trend’ after a group of teens were caught on camera coughing on produce at a grocery store, then posting it on social media.”

Shenanigans like this appears to be behind some of the fears and warnings about food contamination that are now in circulation. In a March 19, 2020, Facebook post, Purcellville police stated:2

“We are asking for parental assistance in monitoring your teenagers’ activities, as well as their social media posts to avoid the increase of any further such incidents.”

Conventional Food Safety Rules Apply

The good news is, evidence suggests there’s little cause for concern, provided you follow conventionally accepted food safety guidelines. As noted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:3

“Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”

Similarly, in a March 14, 2020, article in The Atlantic,4 epidemiologist Stephen Morse from Columbia University noted that “cooked foods are unlikely to be a concern unless they get contaminated after cooking,” and that holds true even if the person preparing the food is ill.

The reason for that is because high heat kills most pathogens, including coronavirus. Ideally, a sick person would not be doing the cooking for others, but even if that were the case, or in cases where you might not know you’re a carrier, the sensible thing to do is to make sure you don’t cough or sneeze on or near the food.

In “Food Safety and Coronavirus: A Comprehensive Guide,”5 J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, chief culinary adviser for Serious Eats, answers a range of food safety related questions based on what is currently known. Importantly, there is (as of yet) no evidence of transmission of COVID-19 via food or food packaging, according to the FDA.6,7

Food Packaging Is Not a Suspected Disease Vector

While preliminary findings suggest the virus can remain viable on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and stainless steel or plastic for as long as three days,8 if we are to believe the CDC,9 the risk of contracting COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose is minimal — at least far lower than droplet infection (meaning you inhale the airborne virus).

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” the CDC notes.10

As suggested by Lopez-Alt,11 a sensible way to minimize any risk associated with contaminated food packages, however potentially small, would be to transfer the food to a clean container and wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after discarding the original container.

Cooked and Raw Food Are Unlikely Sources of Infection

As mentioned, heat will kill any pathogens present in the food being cooked, and reheating takeout is one avenue you can take if you’re concerned. Research12 on SARS-CoV-1 (the virus responsible for SARS) found the virus was inactivated by temperatures above 149 degrees F (65 degrees C) after three minutes, and preliminary evidence13 suggests SARS-CoV-1 (COVID-19) is highly sensitive to heat.

For reheating and heat-sterilizing recommendations, see Lopez-Alt’s article, “Food Safety and Coronavirus: A Comprehensive Guide.”14

Raw food is also unlikely to cause COVID-19, even if it’s contaminated by a cough or sneeze. The reason for this is because respiratory viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 reproduce in your respiratory tract,15 not your digestive tract, which is where your food goes. The two are separate.

And, while the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been found in feces, there’s no evidence suggesting it can cause illness by going through the digestive tract. Nor has there been any reports of fecal-oral transmission of COVID-19 (which could occur if a food handler fails to properly wash their hands after going to the bathroom), according to the CDC.16

Also keep in mind that viruses require a live host, and cannot replicate and multiply on food. Rather, the viral load will decrease over time. Even eating contaminated food with your bare hands is unlikely to cause a problem. Lopez-Alt writes:17

“What about this scenario: a worker coughs on a cutting board then assembles a hamburger directly on that board before placing it in a takeout container. You then come home and eat that burger with your bare hands, then pick your nose, or do something else that deposits the virus along your respiratory tract.

In this situation, the viral load has been diluted several times. First when it was transferred from the board to the burger bun. Next, more viral load was shed when the bun was placed in the takeout container. It is diluted again when you pick up the burger before interacting with your face in inadvisable ways.

While he didn’t rule out the possibility of picking up the disease this way, [North Carolina State University food safety specialist Ben] Chapman described it as ‘a moonshot, even before you touch your face.’ Using clean silverware when possible and washing your hands after eating and before touching your face further minimizes that risk.”

Avoid Washing Produce With Soap

All of that said, it’s still advisable to wash your produce before cooking or eating it raw. As noted by People magazine,18 soap — while effective for killing viruses — is not appropriate for most fresh produce, although you could use it for some things. Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, director of Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, told People:

“Using soap has never really been recommended for fresh produce before, and our recommendation has still been to use water and rinse … I don’t have any evidence that it will for sure reduce risk of the virus because we don’t have the research.

There is almost no evidence that implicates that food as a vehicle for causing this disease. The evidence we have is still largely person-to-person transmission.”

Similarly, infectious disease expert Dr. William Haseltine, president of ACCESS Health International, told the magazine, “I wouldn’t wash your lettuce with soapy water, but something like a potato or an apple or a plum you can wash, the outside of a mango you can wash.”

Also keep in mind that while it may seem innocuous to add a few squirts of hand or dish soap to your produce with the intention of removing pathogens, of the 232 hand-washing detergents listed on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Healthy Cleaning database,19 58 scored a failing grade. Examples of toxic ingredients found in dish soap include:20,21

Cocamide DEA — Suspicions include cancer, chronic aquatic toxicity, acute aquatic toxicity.

DMDM hydantoin — Suspicions include chemical release of formaldehyde and irritation of the skin, eyes or lungs.

Ethanolamine — Suspicions include respiratory effects, general systemic/organ effects, chronic aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage.

Formaldehyde — Suspicions include cancer, general systemic and organ effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage, acute aquatic toxicity.

Sodium borate — Suspicions include developmental, endocrine and reproductive effects, skin irritation, allergies and damage, and respiratory effects.

Sulfuric acid — Suspicions include cancer, respiratory effects, skin irritation and allergies.

Triclosan — Suspicions include aquatic and general ecotoxicity, developmental, endocrine and reproductive effects, cancer and immune system effects.

What About Bleach?

Washing your produce with bleach is another tactic that is likely unnecessary, and may react with the organic material in the food to create disinfection byproducts that are far more toxic than chlorine. As reported by MSN,22 “experts advise against putting bleach on anything you’re going to eat … and say washing with warm water works just as well with fewer potential risks.” The article continues:

“In a recent New York Times California Today newsletter, a food safety expert suggested that Californians facing ‘shelter in place’ orders should take extra precautions when making essential trips to the grocery store.

This advice includes tips on how to sanitize grocery items, including using a very diluted bleach solution (one teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water) to mist produce, and then let it air dry before eating.

Other experts say this isn’t necessary, and may not even be safe. It’s unlikely that you’ll be infected by the virus via your groceries, according to Dr. Tamika Sims, the Director of Food Technology Communications at the International Food Information Council …

Bleach could … present health risks of its own. Food safety guides23 advise against using bleach or detergent on anything you’re going to eat. ‘Bleach is not meant to be used to clean any foods or food products. The ingestion of any amount of bleach can be a major health hazard,’ Sims said …

If you are concerned about your fruits and vegetables … just cook them, or wash them thoroughly with warm water … ‘CDC has told us that this virus denatures (breaks down) relatively easily with warm water and with heat,’ she said.”

How to Wash Your Produce

Speaking to, CarrieAnn Arias, VP of marketing at Naturipe Farms says:24

“Washing your fruits and vegetables under running water is always recommended, even if it has a peel you will be discarding like our avocados. Don’t use soap, detergents or bleach solutions. When it comes to berries, you will want to rinse in cool running water before serving.

Raw veggies and fruits are safe to eat, especially right now. They are packed with nutrition and essential vitamins that can aid in boosting our energy and immune system.”

Ken Rubin, chief culinary officer at Rouxbe culinary school, echoes Arias’ advice, saying:25

“The best practices for washing fruits and vegetables has not changed or been revised in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same principles that have always been true still apply. If you are uneasy or uncertain, just buy varieties of produce that you can either peel at home (like bananas, oranges, mangoes or avocados) or choose products that you will cook.”

Those “best practices” are simple indeed, and just like Arias points out. As explained by Barbara Ingham, a food science extension specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison:26

“Wash all whole fruits and vegetables before preparing them — even if the skin or rind will not be eaten. This prevents pathogens from being transferred from the rind or skin to the inside of the fruit or vegetable when it is cut …

Wash fruits and vegetables under clean, running water in a clean sink. Fresh fruits and vegetables should not be soaked in water. Do not use detergents, soaps or bleach to wash produce. These products may change the flavor and could be poisonous.

If the fruits and vegetables are firm (such as potatoes or melons), scrub them with a clean, sanitized fruit/vegetable brush. For soft fruits and vegetables (tomatoes), gently rub them with your hands to loosen the dirt. Also remove the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage before washing them.

To wash berries, parsley and greens, put them in a clean colander and spray them with a kitchen sink sprayer. Or, gently turn the produce as you hold it under running water. Be sure to turn and gently shake the colander as you wash the produce.”

Can You Use Vinegar?

A safe alternative that can help reduce your exposure to foodborne pathogens — but not likely viruses — is to wash your produce with white vinegar and water in a 1 to 3 ratio. Let the produce rest for 30 minutes and then wash lightly under cold running water.27

The acid in the vinegar can cross bacterial cell membranes, killing the cells,28 but research suggests it doesn’t provide much protection against viruses. As noted on Talk CLEAN to Me, a blog by experts in chemical disinfection for infection prevention:29

“… organic acid disinfectants … typically lack a broad spectrum of kill … You may be thinking ‘Hey, wait! Vinegar and acetic acid have been used for hundreds of years as methods of disinfection and sanitization.’

However, it is important to note that these only show strength against relatively easy to kill organisms such as pseudomonas. There is no current data that concludes that organic acids bolster a broad spectrum of kill.”

One type of vinegar that does appear to be effective against viruses is malt vinegar (made from malted barley grain, which is also used to make beer; a second fermentation turns the ale into vinegar30).

According to the 2010 article, “Effectiveness of Common Household Cleaning Agents in Reducing the Viability of Human Influenza A/H1N1,” published in PLOS ONE,31 10% malt vinegar “rapidly and completely” inactivates influenza viruses.

Creative and Inexpensive Solution for Ventilator Shortages

“Mechanical ventilation is the main supportive treatment for critically ill patients” infected with novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), according to a February 2020 study published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.1

But severe shortages of these life-saving machines have become a common concern echoed by hospitals across the U.S., with medical professionals and government officials alike calling for increased production of this critical resource.

Ventilators help people breathe when they can’t do it on their own. Sometimes referred to as “breathing machines,” ventilators help pump oxygen into your body and carbon dioxide out via a tube that goes into your mouth and windpipe in a process called intubation. The ventilator may automatically take a set number of “breaths” each minute or be programmed to kick in if you don’t take a breath in a predetermined amount of time.2

Either way, the machines are crucial for helping some patients survive until their lungs begin working on their own. In the case of COVID-19, it may lead to inflammation in your airways or fluid in your lungs, requiring mechanical ventilation to pump oxygen into your body. By some estimates, has many as 25% of people with COVID-19 become critically ill, and may need a ventilator to help them breathe.3

If ventilator shortages continue, and the number of people who need them at one time increase, doctors may be faced with making unthinkable choices about who gets to live or die based on who gets the ventilator and who does not. Creative solutions have emerged that may help, however, including the use of a converted snorkeling mask and converting ventilators to service more than one patient at a time.

Emergency Ventilator Mask Made From Snorkeling Mask

Isinnova, an Italian 3D printing company, was contacted by Dr. Renato Favero, a former head physician of the Gardone Valtrompia Hospital, with an idea to overcome the shortage of hospital Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, masks for sub-intensive therapy.4

Isinnova has previously used 3D printing to make ventilator valves for local hospitals, leading Favero to seek them out for a plan to create an emergency ventilator mask by modifying a snorkeling mask already on the market.

While full ventilators breathe both in and out for a patient, CPAP machines, which are often used to treat severe sleep apnea, regulate the pressure and level of oxygen that reaches the lungs, using mild air pressure to keep breathing airways open.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the treatment “involves using a CPAP machine that includes a mask or other device that fits over your nose or your nose and mouth, straps to position the mask, a tube that connects the mask to the machine’s motor, and a motor that blows air into the tube.”5

Isinnova contacted Decathlon, the producer of the snorkeling Easybreath mask, and was able to create the emergency mask in just three days. “We had to do it very quickly because it was a matter of saving lives,” Isinnova engineer Alessandro Romaioli told Fox News. “We didn’t do it as a usual project, where we would have had time to check it three, four times. We just had to do it as quick as we could.”6

Isinnova initially printed about 50 special valves that they call the “Charlotte valve” designed to guarantee the mask’s connection to the ventilator, and tested it out at the Chiari Hospital. Isinnova explained:7

“The prototype as a whole has been tested on one of our colleagues directly inside the Chiari Hospital, connected to the ventilator body, and has proven to be correctly working. The hospital itself was enthusiastic about the idea and decided to test the device on a patient in need. The testing was successful.”

3D Design Free for All to Access

Isinnova has posted the design for its patented Charlotte valve on its website, stating that they want it to be available to all hospitals in need of it.

“Health care facilities in difficulty will be able to purchase the Decathlon mask … and get in contact with 3d printers who could make the piece and provide it,” the company stated. “We clarify that our initiative is totally nonprofit; we will not obtain any royalties on the idea of the link, nor on the sales of Decathlon masks.”8

While neither the mask nor the valve link are certified, they are designed for use in health care facilities that are in need of emergency medical supplies. So far, they’ve received feedback from doctors stating that the redesigned masks have helped to save lives. Romaioli told Fox News:

“The feedback has all been positive, not because it’s the biggest therapy in the world, but because they can apply some therapy to people that they haven’t been able to help before. All hospitals are going to run out of breathing masks, biomedical or certified, but these homemade masks can treat some patients that they couldn’t before.”9

Converting Ventilators to Treat Multiple Patients

Typically, one ventilator is used to treat one patient, but in extreme times such as a pandemic, some clever doctors have figured out ways to modify them so they can treat more than one person at a time, potentially doubling, tripling or even quadrupling the number of lives they can save.

Data published in a pilot study in 2016 by doctors Greg Neyman and Charelene Irvin Babcock found that a single ventilator could quickly be modified, using readily available plastic tubing, to ventilate four simulated adults for a limited time — about 12 hours.10

The doctors concluded, “While further study is necessary, this pilot study suggests significant potential for the expanded use of a single ventilator during cases of disaster surge involving multiple casualties with respiratory failure.”11 Babcock, who is now an emergency medicine physician in Detroit, Michigan, explains how to use the technique in the video above.

She says she was able to create the four-way adapter in 15 minutes using supplies at her hospital. And though she says caution is warranted, since the technique has only been studied in simulated test lungs and animals, not in humans, “it’s probably better than nothing in dire circumstances.”12

In fact, while it hasn’t been tested in humans and is an “off-label use of the ventilator,” the Neyman/Babcock technique has been used in humans.

Emergency room doctor Kevin Menes used the technique in 2017, after a mass shooting in Las Vegas flooded the emergency room with critically injured patients and they ran out of ventilators. By matching up two people with similar lung sizes and capacity, he was able to save lives by converting single ventilators to work for more than one person.13

Since Babcock shared the video of how to do the technique, Dr. Saud Anwar, a pulmonologist with the Eastern Connecticut Health Network, put it to action at Manchester Memorial Hospital and tested it on four simulated lungs, with promising success.

“One can get four patients on a single ventilator but it has to be done in an extremely focused manner,” he told Connecticut Magazine. “The catch is that the four patients need to be of a similar size with similar illness and similar lung physiology.”14

Nine Patients on One Ventilator?

Another doctor, Dr. Alain Gauthier, an anesthetist at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital in Ontario, was also inspired by Babcock’s how-to video. In about 10 minutes, he rigged one ventilator to treat nine people.15 The possibility of increasing ventilators’ capacity to treat multiple patients may not be fool proof, but it’s encouraging when many states are fearing shortages.

One potential concern is cross-contamination between patients, but filters on the machine may help with that.16 There’s also a question of how the method will fare among people who need to be ventilated for longer periods of time. Gregory Barefoot, a physician’s assistant (PA) and former chief PA at the Trauma and Surgical Critical Care service in Columbia, South Carolina, told Vice:

“Some of the patients that are suffering from COVID-19 are having to be ventilated for over a week in many cases … Ideally, the patients that would be grouped together would be of similar disease pattern, body habitus and with similar premorbid health status … a mode of ventilation should fit the patient, not the other way around.

Each person will interact with a ventilator differently and it is hard to individualize care among four patients with one ventilator.”17

How Many Ventilators Are in the US?

A 2010 study surveyed 4,305 U.S. hospitals that accounted for 83.8% of U.S. intensive care unit hospital beds at that time. There were 52,118 mechanical ventilators owned by the hospitals, with researchers estimating that, overall, there are 62,188 full-feature mechanical ventilators owned by U.S. acute care hospitals.18

They also estimated that there are another 98,738 devices other than full-feature ventilators at U.S. hospitals, and noted wide variation in numbers of ventilators across states.

The New York Times, meanwhile, estimated the number of ventilators in U.S. hospitals to be 160,000, along with an additional 12,700 in the National Strategic Stockpile, which includes medical supplies held by the U.S. government for emergencies.19 The America Hospital Association, meanwhile, has suggested that up to 960,000 Americans may need ventilator support due to COVID-19.20

“The reality is there is absolutely not enough,” Andreas Wieland, the chief executive of Hamilton Medical in Switzerland, which manufacturers ventilators, told The New York Times. “We see that in Italy, we saw that in China, we see it in France and other countries. We could sell I don’t know how many.”21

US Knew About Ventilator Shortages

Ventilator manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand, and efforts are underway to ramp up supplies. Ford reached an agreement with GE Healthcare to reportedly build 50,000 units within 100 days and work up to producing 30,000 per month, but production isn’t slated to start until the week of April 20, 2020.22

GM has also announced plans to partner with Ventec Life Systems to increase production of ventilators, but the question remains as to why the U.S. wasn’t prepared with enough ventilators for a pandemic such as this.

In a 2009 planning report from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), it was estimated that a severe influenza pandemic could infect 90 million people, sending almost 1.5 million to intensive care units with 750,000 people requiring mechanical ventilation.23

In a 2003 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, it was also noted that “few hospitals have adequate medical equipment, such as the ventilators that are often needed for respiratory infections such as SARS, to handle the large increases in the number of patients that may result.”24,25 The U.S. even tried to build more ventilators more than a decade ago, but failed. The Times reported:26

“The plan was to build a large fleet of inexpensive portable devices to deploy in a flu pandemic or another crisis. Money was budgeted. A federal contract was signed. Work got underway.

And then things suddenly veered off course. A multibillion-dollar maker of medical devices bought the small California company that had been hired to design the new machines. The project ultimately produced zero ventilators.

That failure delayed the development of an affordable ventilator by at least half a decade, depriving hospitals, states and the federal government of the ability to stock up. The federal government started over with another company in 2014, whose ventilator was approved only last year [2019] and whose products have not yet been delivered.”

Resourceful doctors thinking outside of the box and rigging ventilators to treat multiple patients may therefore end up being among the many heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

FAKE QAnon, Austin Steinbart: Arrested and Charged with Extortion and Cyber Crimes

(Will Justice) QAnon LARPer Austin Steinbart (real name: Ryan Austin Steinbart) was arrested and charged with extortion and cyber crimes in late March, according to a complaint filed with District Court of Arizona. He was being investigated by the FBI for refusing to remove a video wherein he doxxed several patients, after having hacked a medical record database.

The post FAKE QAnon, Austin Steinbart: Arrested and Charged with Extortion and Cyber Crimes appeared on Stillness in the Storm.