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How does coronavirus impact your food?

grocery store

In challenging times, the old adage is true: Sometimes you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying.

Like many of us, I’m worried about family members who live in other states and may be isolated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As a joke to calm our anxiety, my family and I have started texting each other to compare how many rolls of toilet paper we have left in our homes, now that TP is in short supply because of panic shopping.

According to the Center for Food Integrity, COVID-19 has shifted consumer buying behavior.

After years of focusing on what’s on the perimeter of the store – fresh produce, in particular - consumers are now turning to shelf-stable foods like canned vegetables, frozen entrees, beans, pasta and powdered milk.

Consumers are also buying more indulgent foods, such as chocolate, baking mixes and comfort-food ingredients, to help cope with the stress of the unknown and being in self-isolation.

Interestingly, it also appears consumers are skipping the plant-based imitation meats in favor of real beef.

Yet with so much uncertainty, we’re also exposed to a lot of rumors and false information swirling around in the media and online.

Here is what we do know about coronavirus and its impact on food safety and the U.S. food supply:

Coronavirus isn’t a food-borne pathogen.

The risk is small that you will contract COVID-19 from fresh produce or other foods, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, not a food-borne illness. Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19, the FDA says. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects.

As always, experts recommend practicing good food safety habits at home, including washing hands before preparing or eating foods, washing fresh produce under clean running water, and cooking meat, poultry and eggs to safe temperatures.

We aren’t running out of food.

Although shelves may be low or empty right now at grocery stores, the United States has more than enough food available for all of us, experts report.

In addition, much of the food that the U.S. was exporting or that was sold to restaurants before the outbreak will now end up in the domestic retail market.

The greatest concern is for low-income families who struggle with food insecurity and may be out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic.

When schools close, children don’t eat school breakfast or lunch, which could be their only nutritious meal of the day.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and local school districts are trying to come up with creative solutions, such as drive-up bagged lunches, to provide school meals to students.

Iowans are also encouraged to donate to their local food pantry to help ease the increased need for food assistance.

Iowa farmers remain committed to providing safe, nutritious food.

Even before the pandemic forced travel restrictions, many Farm Bureau members canceled plans to travel because they didn’t want to risk getting quarantined during spring planting and calving season.

Livestock farmers implement strict biosecurity practices – such as showering in and showering out before entering barns, restricting visitors from farms, disinfecting equipment and getting a yearly flu shot – to keep their employees, their animals and themselves healthy.

And Iowa farmers will continue to give back to their communities and neighbors however they can – as volunteer firefighters and EMTs, as school board members, or working second jobs in nursing, senior centers or child care.

Local farmers and small businesses need our support.

With the opening of local farmers markets a little over a month away, many Iowa fruit and vegetable growers could lose an important source of seasonal business.

Reach out to your favorite farmers market vendors on their Facebook or Instagram pages, and see if you can buy directly from the farms. Many direct-to-customer local meat producers also offer online purchases and shipping within state lines.

In addition, several Farm Bureau members in Iowa also own and operate small businesses that may be closed because of COVID-19.

So do what you can to support them: Order drive-up meals from your favorite café or coffee shop, buy a gift certificate to a local store or give an extra large tip to anyone working in a service business.

And when Iowa’s small business reopen, let’s make sure the lines outside their doors are as long as the lines to buy toilet paper.