Packing School Lunches

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, in China. On 7 January this virus was identified as a coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that include the common cold, and viruses such as SARS and MERS. This new virus was temporarily named “2019-nCoV.” RSA Gov.

UPDATE 12 FEBRUARY 2020: The novel coronavirus, which is now called COVID-19 as declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 February 2020, continues to affect many people in China and across parts of the world. South Africa remains on high alert for any suspected cases that can be imported through its borders. As of 12 February 2020, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, has conducted 63 tests for COVID-19 and all came back negative. The NICD can confirm that South Africa has not had a confirmed case of COVID-19. NICD

Public health officials and partners are working hard to identify the source of the COVID-19. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animals, including camels, cats and bats. Analysis of the genetic tree of this virus is ongoing to know the specific source of the virus.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg are on high alert. They have stated that they are adequately prepared for active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing, and prevention of onward spread.

The NICD describes the symptoms that are being identified :

Patients with acute respiratory infection (sudden onset of at least one of the following: cough, sore throat, shortness of breath) requiring hospitalisation or not.

In the 14 days prior to onset of symptoms, met at least one of the following epidemiological criteria:

  • Were in close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 infection;
  • Had a history of travel to areas with presumed ongoing community transmission of 2019-nCoV2; i.e. China
  • Worked in or attended a healthcare facility where patients with COVID-19 infections were being treated.
Advice On How To Deal With The Novel Coronavirus Risk

Close contact is defined as: A person having had face-to-face contact or was in a closed environment with a COVID-19 case; this includes, amongst others, all persons living in the same household as a COVID-19 case and, people working closely in the same environment as a case. A healthcare worker or other person providing direct care for a COVID-19 case, while not wearing recommended personal protective equipment or PPE (e.g., gowns, gloves, NIOSH-certified disposable N95 respirator, eye protection). A contact in an aircraft sitting within two seats (in any direction) of the COVID-19 case, travel companions or persons providing care, and crew members serving in the section of the aircraft where the index case was seated.

Is there treatment available?

There is no specific treatment for disease caused by the COVID-19 and treatment is based on symptoms based on the patient’s clinical condition. Supportive care for infected persons is usually highly effective.  The key is to seek medical attention as soon as the first symptoms show, especially for the elderly and people with weak immune systems, such as HIV-positive individuals.

Can COVID-19 be transmitted through food?

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the virus is transmitted through food.  Two closely related viruses, MERS and SARS were not considered a high risk for transmission through food. Research in this respect is ongoing.

What can be done to prevent infections and cross-contamination

The WHO has a great deal of information and suggestions: 

  • Wash your hands frequently
    • Wash your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
    • Washing your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water kills the virus if it is on your hands.
  • Practice respiratory hygiene
    • When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue.
    • Discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
    • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing prevent the spread of germs and viruses.
    • If you sneeze or cough into your hands, you may contaminate objects or people that you touch.
  • Maintain social distancing
    • Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.
    • When someone who is infected with a respiratory disease, like 2019-nCoV, coughs or sneezes they project small droplets containing the virus.
    • If you are too close, you can breathe in the virus.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
    • Hands touch many surfaces which can be contaminated with the virus. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer the virus from the surface to yourself.
  • If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early
    • Tell your health care provider if you have travelled in an area in China where COVID-19 has been reported, or if you have been in close contact with someone with who has travelled from China and has respiratory symptoms.
    • Whenever you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing it’s important to seek medical attention promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition.
    • Respiratory symptoms with fever can have a range of causes, and depending on your personal travel history and circumstances, COVID-19 could be one of them.

The best advice we can give in the kitchens is to redouble efforts in terms of food safety

Concentrate on personal hygiene and hand washing!

  • Cleaning & Sanitising
    • The first step in creating a safe environment is to keep all areas in the kitchen clean and free of possible contamination.
  • Personal Hygiene
    • The second pillar is probably the most important in terms of eliminating cross-contamination. Hand washing and clean hands awareness are critical to food safety and the prevention of the spread of germs. 
  • Food Storage
    • Keeping good food storage is important in preventing food contamination.
  • Temperature Control
    • Temperature control  is a fundamental principle in preventing the growth of bacteria and germs.
  • Food Handling
    • Food Handling carries the greatest risk when dealing with cross-contamination. How you handle foods can determine the food safety risk in your kitchen. Keep food prep separate, don’t defrost foods incorrectly and don’t leave foods out unnecessarily. 

Interesting Reads

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS‐CoV) that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases in humans, ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

A typical case of MERS includes fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, however some people infected with the MERS virus have been reported to be asymptomatic. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported.

Severe cases of MERS can include respiratory failure that requires mechanical ventilation and support in an intensive-care unit.

Some patients have had organ failure, especially of the kidneys, or septic shock. The virus appears to cause more severe disease in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and people with chronic diseases as diabetes, cancer, and chronic lung disease.

The mortality rate for people with the MERS virus is approximately 35% – this may be an overestimate however, as mild cases may be missed by existing surveillance systems.

SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)


SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) – virus identified in 2003. SARS-CoV is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain animal reservoir, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals (civet cats) and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002.


An epidemic of SARS affected 26 countries and resulted in more than 8000 cases in 2003. Since then, a small number of cases have occurred as a result of laboratory accidents or, possibly, through animal-to-human transmission (Guangdong, China).

Transmission of SARS-CoV is primarily from person to person. It appears to have occurred mainly during the second week of illness, which corresponds to the peak of virus excretion in respiratory secretions and stool, and when cases with severe disease start to deteriorate clinically. Most cases of human-to-human transmission occurred in the health care setting, in the absence of adequate infection control precautions. Implementation of appropriate infection control practices brought the global outbreak to an end.

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Hygiene Survey Manager