by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coronavirus

Mar 31 2020

What does $2 Trillion do for US Food Systems? (Not much, alas)

President Trump’s $2 Trillion relief package is the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.’’

This 880-page (!) bill addresses food systems in several ways, most of them in “Title I Agricultural Programs” which starts on page 609 like this:.

For an additional amount for the ‘‘Office of the Secretary’’, $9,500,000,000, to remain available until expended, to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus, including producers of specialty crops, producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools, and livestock producers, including dairy producers: Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 22 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency 23 Deficit Control Act of 1985.

This sounds good (in Ag-speak, specialty crops are fruits and vegetables), but what this means in practice, according to the New York Times, is

  • About $23.5 billion in assistance to farmers ($9.5 in subsidies, $14 in borrowing authority)

But this will go mainly to soy and corn producers, key Trump constituents in an election year.  This amount follows nearly $26 billion in aid already provided to offset losses from the China trade war.  This new funds exceed USDA’s entire discretionary budget request for next year.  The USDA Secretary may allocate the funds as he wishes, with no oversight.

So much for welfare for the rich.

As for the poor, the bill provides

  • About $25 billion for food assistance (domestic food programs $8.8 billion, SNAP $15.8 billion).

This too sounds like a lot but all it does is account for the expected increase in demand from people newly out of work.  It does not in any way increase the amount that individuals and families receive.

How did this happen?  Chalk it up to effective lobbying by agribusiness.

The gains for agribusiness were accomplished, says the Times, by “A small army of groups mounted the fast-moving campaign for aid, including the politically powerful American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Joining them were other smaller players representing producers of goods like turkey, pork and potatoes or sunflowers, sorghum, peanuts and eggs.”

Earlier, Politico reported that nearly 50 organizations representing farmers, equipment manufacturers and agricultural lenders sent a letter stating their needs as a result of declining demand from school and restaurant shutdowns and direct-to-consumer sales.

The bill does little to help the folks who most need help.  Anti-hunger groups tried, but failed.

Poor people need to vote.  And organize.

Mar 30 2020

Coronavirus and food: weekly update

RIP

  • Floyd Cardoz, a chef whose food I loved, is one of the early casualties.  I last talked to him at an event not six weeks ago.  He was having a hard time.  But to end like this?  A heartbreak.

Predictions of high risk

Effects on food systems

The alcohol industry responds

Here come the panaceas

Here come the frauds

For useful information

  • The CUNY Urban Food Policy Center is studying the effects of Covid-19 on New York City’s food system.  Its website is here.
  • The New York State Health Foundation has COVID-19 resources for nonprofits and community-based organizations, about food assistance as well as other matters.
Mar 27 2020

Every crisis has heroes: here’s ours

Thanks to Dr. Leon Axel for his cartoons, especially this one.

Mar 25 2020

Is it safe to eat produce from farmers markets?  Yes and please do.

Not many restaurants will be able to survive Coronavirus, and this is a personal, social, and national tragedy.

I’m worried about farmers’ markets too.

Researchers say that the cost of Coronavirus to farm-to-consumer programs could go well into the billions.  I believe it.

Now is the time to support your local farmers.

California has ruled farmers’ markets essential to local economies.

Now is the time to do what you can to keep them open and viable, even with the need for social distancing.  Use home delivery or curbside pick up if you have to.

Even more, join the Farmers Market Coalition campaign for congressional support.

Is farmers’ market produce safe to eat?  Yes (with some caveats), as I discussed on Monday.

Mar 24 2020

Coronavirus and food: this week’s update

From the New York Times

Does food transmit Coronavirus?  

Keeping up Coronoavirus  

How to survive working at home (watch out for junk food) 

How to take action

Advice for the food industry

  • US lays out new COVID-19 guidelines for food industry  The Trump Administration released a set of coronavirus guidelines for all Americans, with special provisions for critical infrastructure industries like food and beverage. Brands have been adapting this week to the new reality, while keeping employee safety a top priority…. Read more

What’s happening with supermarkets and supply chains?

What to avoid: dubious schemes for immune boosting

Who profits from this?

What else?

Mar 23 2020

Is it safe to eat fresh produce? Yes (with caveats)

I’ve been getting many requests from friends to weigh in on what’s safe to eat.

  • Is it safe to eat fresh produce from supermarkets?
  • Is it safe to eat fresh produce in bags or plastic packs?
  • Is it safe to eat fresh produce from farmers’ markets? [and see post this coming Wednesday]
  • Is it safe to eat take-out?
  • Is it safe to eat home-delivered meals?

To answer these questions, I did a lot of reading and also consulted my guru for such matters and longstanding colleague, Dr. Bobby Baron, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean Graduate and Continuing Medical Education at UCSF.

Basically, the answer to all these questions is yes.  To date, there is no evidence of Cornonavirus transmission through food.

Transmission risk is greatest from infected people.  Hence: social distance and hand washing when dealing with food and deliveries of packages.

Coronavirus is a respiratory virus, mostly.  Contamination through food is theoretically possible, but hasn’t happened yet far as we know.

To be 100 percent safe while eating fresh produce

Do what you would do in countries without safe water supplies—follow the P rules and only eat foods that are:

  • Piping hot (hot temperatures destroy viruses and other microorganisms)
  • Peeled (wash hands before and after)
  • Purified (cooked and not recontaminated)
  • Packaged (industrially packed, frozen, or dried)

As always, wash hands.

If you have fresh produce, wash it.  When in doubt, cook it.

Food safety resources for Coronavirus

  • CDC’s advice:  “there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.”
  • FDA’s advice: “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.
  • The European Food Safety Authority’s advice:  “Experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur.”
  • The Irish food safety authority’s advice:  “Coronaviruses need a host (animal or human) to grow in and cannot grow in food. Thorough cooking is expected to kill the virus.”
  • Serious Eats comprehensive guide to food safety.  This goes into the safety issues in greater detail and with more explanation.

Data on Coronavirus survival on surfaces

This week’s blog is devoted to Coronavirus: There’s no point in my talking about anything else

  • Tomorrow: an update
  • Wednesday: focus on farmers’ markets
  • Thursday: pets
  • Friday: The only food-and-Coronavirus cartoon I can find

My mantra: Stay safe, stay healthy, stay sane.  Courage!

Mar 12 2020

What’s up with pets and pet food?

It’s bad enough to have to worry about avoiding getting sick from Coronavirus, but now we have to worry about making our pets sick too.

My pet food mantra: more research needed!

Mar 11 2020

Coronavirus and food: the latest

Food connects to everything, even to Covid-19.  Here’s how.

The New York Times says “Open Windows. Don’t Share Food.”  It reports the latest advice from Vice President Pence’s office, summarized in a flyer.  The not-sharing-food advice refers to schools.

The Los Angeles Times asked for a comment of sharing food.  Here’s what I told the reporter (the article quotes some of this):

Depends on how paranoid you are.  So far, there is no evidence that Coronavirus can be transmitted by food but I suppose it is theoretically possible.  Someone who has the virus but doesn’t show symptoms could cough or sneeze or handle raw foods.  If you handle the foods before cooking them, you could pick up the virus.

Cooking should kill the virus (don’t re-use the bag the foods came in).  Salad greens should always be washed, even prewashed, even salads that come pre-bagged.

As for salad bars: they usually have glass or plastic screens and long handled spoons.  Again, contamination is possible but unlikely.  If such things worry you, the remedy is easy: cook the food and eat it while it’s hot.

Some of the CDC’s advice about Coronavirus relates to food.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.

CDC’s advice about preparedness says what to do if you are ill.  Basically, stay home.

  • Consider ways of getting food brought to your house through family, social, or commercial networks
  • Monitor food and other medical supplies (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) needed and create a back-up plan.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food items to have on hand in your home to minimize trips to stores.

General information about Coronavirus also is available from the World Health Organization.  It doesn’t say anything about sharing food but recommends standard hygiene procedures for food handling and preparation—wash hands, cook meat thoroughly, and avoid cross-contamination between cooked and uncooked foods (see WHO website).

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says there is no evidence that that food is a source or transmission route for Coronavirus.

  • EFSA’s chief scientist, Marta Hugas, said: “Experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur. At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect.”

The FDA has issued warnings to individuals and companies making unsupported claims for Covid-19 cures, one of them to the TV evangelist Jim Bakker (he hawks supplements of colloidal silver).  Warning letters went to the Jim Bakker Show, as well as Vital SilverQuinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.Xephyr, LLC doing business as N-ErgeticsGuruNanda, LLCVivify Holistic ClinicHerbal Amy LLC.

Finally, a survey finds that one-third of shoppers in the U.K. are stockpiling food in preparation for siege by Coronavirus.

Enjoy your meals while all this is going on!