by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coronavirus

Apr 17 2020

Weekend reading: research on coronavirus and food

Research on this virus (officially SARS CoV-2, commonly COVID-19) is pouring out and filling every medical journal I typically read.  Here are a few recent articles on food-related aspects (some of these are not yet in print).

Obesity and its Implications for COVID-19 Mortality: The authors argue that the increased prevalence of obesity in Italy older adults as compared to its prevalence in China may account for the higher mortality observed in Italy.

Obesity is associated with decreased expiratory reserve volume, functional capacity and respiratory system compliance. In patients with increased abdominal obesity, pulmonary function is further compromised in supine patients by decreased aphragmatic excursion, making ventilation more difficult. Furthermore, increased inflammatory cytokines associated with obesity may contribute to the increased morbidity associated with obesity in COVID-19 infections.

Sudden and Complete Olfactory Loss Function as a Possible Symptom of COVID-19: This is a case study of a patient infected by SARS-CoV-2 whose presenting symptom was the sudden and complete loss of the ability to smell.

Loss of smell and taste in combination with other symptoms is a strong predictor of COVID-19 infection:  “Our study suggests that loss of taste and smell is a strong predictor of having been infected by the COVID-19 virus. Also, the combination of symptoms that could be used to identify and isolate individuals includes anosmia, fever, persistent cough, diarrhoea, fatigue, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.”

COVID‐19 Related School Closings and Risk of Weight Gain Among Children:  “In short, we anticipate that the COVID‐19 pandemic will likely double out‐of‐school time this year for many children in the U.S. and will exacerbate the risk factors for weight gain associated with summer recess.”

Should COVID-19 Concern Nephrologists?  Why and to What Extent? The Emerging Impasse of Angiotensin Blockade:  This is the easiest-to-understand review of the science of this extensively studied virus I have been able to find.  It covers the basics along with detailed explanations of what this virus does, how it works, and where vaccines might operate.    To penetrate human cells, this virus seems to hijack a particular enzyme in the complicated renin-angiotensin system that regulates body fluid balance and blood pressure.

Despite these differences, several studies have reported that SARS-CoV-2 exploits the same membrane-bound angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as SARS-CoV to gain access to its target cells, although it has greater binding affinity. ACE2 is a carboxypeptidase that preferentially removes carboxy-terminal hydrophobic or basic amino acids. ACE2 cleaves a single residue from angiotensin I (Ang I), generating Ang 1–9, and a single residue from angiotensin II (Ang II) to generate Ang 1–7, whose vasodilator, anti-proliferative, and anti-fibrotic functional effects oppose those of the Ang II generated by angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE).

Apr 16 2020

Watch out for Coronavirus frauds and unproven promises

Frauds and fraudulent information are so prevalent that the FDA says what it’s doing about them on its Coronavirus web page.

My email inbox is deluged with marketers claiming that their products boost immune systems in general, and protect against Coronavirus in particular.  Often, they cite evidence but this is highly selective and sometimes based on studies paid for by their sponsors.

The bottom line on keeping immune systems healthy?  Eat a healthful diet, don’t gain excess weight, and get plenty of physical activity.  OK, good luck doing that while you are under lockdown, but you can give it a good try.

Here are some of the items that have ended up in my inbox.

Despite FDA pronouncements, industry coalition action, the coronavirus claims warning letters keep coming:  The US Food and Drug Administration has issued an additional six warning letters in recent days on coronavirus claims. The letters coincide with an industry coalition raising a red flag on the growing flood of such claims on dietary supplement-type products….Read more

Unproven COVID-19 health claims: China’s crackdown on ads for oral sprays, probiotics and anti-hangover tea: The Chinese authorities have named and shamed a string of fake advertisement, mostly surrounding unproven COVID-19 health claims.

Consumers warned of sports nutrition products making coronavirus claimsThe European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) has warned consumers of the increase in companies and individuals making unfounded claims in light of the current coronavirus situation….Read more

Cocoa and the coronavirus: can it boost the immune system?  Cacao beans have been consumed by humans for over 3,000 years and the ingredient is well-known for its wide range of health benefits, recent research suggests it can provide stronger protection against influenza virus infection…. Watch now [but watch critically.  If you even give this a moment’s thought….]

 

CRN UK highlights why essential nutrients have never been more essential:  The ongoing threat of coronavirus could increase the potential for deficiencies in key micronutrients supporting the immune system, according to The Council for Responsible Nutrition UK (CRN UK). Read more  [How about eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise?].

Could vitamin D play a role in coronavirus resistance? Research thinks so:  Vitamin D supplements may aid in the resistance of respiratory infections such as the coronavirus or limit the severity of the illness in those infected, according to researchers. Read more.  [And what kind of research are we talking about here?  Some of it is industry-funded, as this example demonstrates (thanks to Claudia Santos for sending)].

Apr 15 2020

Can Coronavirus be transmitted by pets and other animals?

As the author or co-author of two books about pet food (Pet Food Politics and Feed Your Pet Right), I have an ongoing interest in animals in general and dogs and cats in particular.  They too are infected by Coronavirus.  Here are some recent reports.

PANGOLINS: If, like me, you have never seen one, here’s what they look like.

They are the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world, prized as food and for their scales used in traditional Chinese medicine.  They are also suspected as being the reservoir for SARS CoV-2.

The discovery of multiple lineages of pangolin coronavirus and their similarity to SARS CoV-2 suggests that pangolins should be considered as possible hosts in the emergence of novel coronaviruses and should be removed from wet markets to prevent zoonotic transmission.

LIVESTOCK: This article offers the intriguing but unconfirmed suggestion that industrial pig production—not pangolins in wet markets—could be the origin of covid-19.    But other data suggest that pigs do not get Covid-19 (neither do chickens or ducks, but ferrets do).

TIGERS AND LIONS: A tiger at the Bronx Zoo—Nadia—developed a dry cough; her test for covid-19 came out positive.  Three other tigers and three lions also had the same cough.  How did they get this?  The zoo says:

Our cats were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms…Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats.

DOGS: I’ve written about this previously.  The few cases of Covid-19 in dogs were apparently transmitted by their humans.  We don’t have evidence that dogs can transmit the virus to humans—yet?

CATS:  Cats, like lions and tigers, can be infected with Covid-19 and can spread it to other cats.  This is known from a study in which Chinese virologists injected the virus into the noses of domestic cats.  Can they spread it to humans?  More research, please.

The team, led by virologist Bu Zhigao at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, introduced the SARS-CoV-2 virus into the noses of five domestic cats. When two of the animals were euthanized six days later, the researchers found viral RNA and infectious virus particles in their upper respiratory tracts.

CAN PETS (OR ZOO ANIMALS) TRANSMIT THE VIRUS TO HUMANS?  There is no evidence for this so far, according to the Centers for Disease ControlWorld Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and World Health Organization.  The WHO says:

  • We are aware of instances of animals and pets of COVID-19 patients being infected with the disease;
  • There is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans. Further evidence is needed to understand if animals and pets can spread the disease;
  • Based on current evidence, human to human transmission remains the main driver;
  • It is still too early to say whether cats could be the intermediate host in the transmission of the COVID-19.

WHEN IN DOUBT: Wash your hands.

OTHER ITEMS ABOUT ANIMALS

RESOURCE: The World Organization for Animal Health has a useful Q and A on Coronavirus and pet and food animals.

Apr 14 2020

While waiting for the plague to end, here’s a food project for the week

This invitation comes from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The Sad-and-Useless website has been collecting examples.  Some have to do with food.  Here are a couple of examples.

Now it’s your turn.  Have fun!

Apr 10 2020

One more time: Is it safe to eat fresh foods from supermarkets and what to do about the packages

I know I’ve talked about what foods are safe to eat earlier (see previous post), but from the number of queries I’m getting it’s clear that this matter needs further discussion.

I can understand why this is so confusing.  Nobody gives a straight answer.

Let me start with the CDC’s advice:

How’s that for reassuring?

Consumer Reports: Answers to Common Questions About Coronavirus and the Food You Eat

The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the World Health Organization say that food is not known to be a route of transmission of the virus. And the information available from outbreaks of SARS and MERS, caused by coronaviruses similar to the one that causes COVID-19, is reassuring. According to the WHO, the evidence showed that those illnesses were not transmitted by food.

Seattle Times: Debunking 10 myths about the Coronavirus

MYTH: The coronavirus can’t survive airborne or on surfaces.

FACT: Researchers have found that droplets carrying the virus can travel through the air and stay suspended for about half an hour. They can also settle on surfaces, where the virus can last longer — up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 72 hours on plastic and steel. The risk of getting infected from touching these materials, however, remains low because the virus’ ability to infect decreases rapidly over time.  Source: The New York Times

Washington Post: Why health experts aren’t warning about coronavirus in food

The CDC and other experts note that the virus is new and still being studied. But they say there’s no evidence yet that COVID-19 sickens people through their digestive systems, though the virus has been detected in the feces of infected people.

Washington Post:  Grocery shopping during the coronavirus: Wash your hands, keep your distance and limit trips

In my paraphrasing:

  • Don’t go to the grocery store unless you have to
  • Wear a face mask

JAMA’s Patient Page on food safety and the virus

My bottom line on how to interpret all this

Maybe this virus has not been shown to be transmitted through food—yet—but why be the first case.  While waiting for the research—and let’s hope it comes soon—following the Washington Post’s and JAMA’s advice makes sense.

It’s also always a good idea to follow basic food safety principles for raw foods: clean, cook, separate, chill.

Cooking kills the virus.  Enjoy!

Have a happy, well fed, and safe weekend.

Resources

Apr 9 2020

Food and Coronavirus continued: food dumping and other reminders of the Great Depression

The Miami Herald reports that millions of pounds of fresh produce are being left to die on the vine or plowed under because the shutdown of the hospitality industry — restaurants, cruise ships, schools, airlines, and theme parks — has reduced demand.

Harvesting that fruit can cost more than twice as much as simply razing it. Workers who usually make between $15-$17 an hour, paid by the amount they pick, instead earn minimum wage doing field work.  So one million pounds of green beans and four million pounds of cabbage at R.C. Hatton will be churned into mulch in the next few days.

Dairy farmers in New York are dumping milk:

Grimshaw Farms in Henderson, New York milks about 300 cows. This week they’ve dumped 30,000 pounds of milk. “We are being told there is too much milk on the market,” Grimshaw shared on Facebook. “This is very strange when we are being told many milk shelves across the country are empty. Sure hope we can remain in business after these trying times.”

So are dairy farmers in Wisconsin,who used to sell most of their milk to schools, restaurants, and food service companies.

The Wisconsin dairy industry has been dealt a harsh blow from the economy that’s been slammed by coronavirus shutdowns. About one-third of the state’s dairy products, mostly cheese, are sold in the food-service trade.

And here is a letter from Gene McAvoy of the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences detailing what he has been hearing from growers about food dumping and losses.  This is a brief excerpt; it’s worth reading all of it.

On Tuesday, March 24, a local broker says, everything changed. From brokers, orders stopped and everything got quiet. Wednesday, the 25th, super-quiet.  Since then tomato volumes are down 85 percent, green beans are like 50 percent, cabbage is like 50 percent.  R.C. Hatton has plowed under 100 acres of green beans, around 2 million pounds, and 60 acres of cabbage, or 5 million pounds.  Florida’s tomato growers target 80% of their production to restaurants and other food service companies, rather than to supermarkets.   In this sector, growers are walking away from big portions of their crop. Tony DiMare estimates that by the end of the growing season, about 10 million pounds of his tomatoes will go unpicked.

Wait!  I’ve read this before!  I wrote the foreword to the updated edition of Janet Poppendieck’s “Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression.

Then, the public was so appalled by farmers’ destroying food while hungry people were lining up for food handouts that the federal government had to respond.  That’s when it authorized food assistance programs, among them food stamps (now SNAP).  This program was designed originally to help farmers as well as the poor.  Poppendieck’s book explains how small farmers got left out of those policies, a decision that haunts us to this day.

So here we are with farmers destroying food and New York City providing free meals to anyone who needs one (see my post on this).

Will all this produce a much stronger safety net for everyone who has been put out of work by this crisis or is paid too poorly to survive?

Will this at last lead to agricultural policies that support small and mid-size dairy farms and farms in general? 

If COVID-19 has done anything beyond making people sick, it has made these needs clear.

Apr 8 2020

Passover during the 11th plague: Celebrate!

This comes from ©Bill Wurtzel’s “Food For Thought about COVID-19.”

And a reader, Harvey Carroll, forwards this (original source unknown):

One of my favorite chefs, Mark Strausman, has posted instructions for a virtual passover.  Here, for example, is his video for do-it-yourself matzo.

Dayenu!

Apr 7 2020

Food and Coronavirus: the good news (!)

In this week’s updates of items related to food and Coronavirus, let’s start with the good news (yes, there is some).

I.  Free meals for New Yorkers

The New York City Department of Education has announced that it will make three free meals available every day for any New Yorker, at more than 400 locations.

  • No one will be turned away at any time
  • All adults and children can pick up three meals at one time
  • Vegetarian and halal options available at all sites
  • No registration or ID required

What, you might wonder, is in these meals?

This is no time to criticize, and I won’t.

This is a monumental undertaking and city officials deserve much praise for making what look like typical school meals available to everyone.

Much praise also to the school food service and other personnel who are preparing these meals.

II.  Recognition that the lowest-paid workers are essential

The economy and society run on the work of farmworkers,  many of them immigrants and undocumented, health care employees, restaurant delivery and food service personnel, and so many others involved in our food system.  The indispensible value of their work has suddenly become visible.   That’s a good first step, but not enough, of course.

III.  An opportunity to document history

A crisis of this magnitude calls for analysis.  It’s hard to do that when you are right in the middle of it, but the Association of Public Historians of New York State has issued a call for documentation and offers suggestions about what to write and collect right now.  We can all do this and lay the groundwork for future historical analysis.  I’m interested in the food and food politics aspects that I’ve been posting about on this site.  All suggestions welcome.

IV.  A return to home gardening and cooking

Salon’s recent article about renewed interest in gardening, canning, and baking focuses attention on how difficult it has become to get seeds and find flour, yeast, and eggs in supermarkets.   My local CSA baker (Wide Awake in Ithaca) is offering sour dough starter, flour, recipes, and instructions along with weekly loaves.  It’s still too cold to plant anything up here in the Finger Lakes, but the robins are back, the forsythia is in bloom, and it will soon be time to start the peas.