Stockpiling foods: Experts flag COVID-19’s impact on nutrition
18 Mar 2020 --- In light of the current global pandemic, people around the world are increasingly being confined to their homes. This has led consumers to stockpile goods so they spend the minimum amount of time outside and protect themselves against COVID-19 infection. However, this behavior is heavily frowned upon by nutritionists, who warn that many are hoarding processed, unhealthy foods or products that may reach their expiration date soon and pose yet another risk to consumers’ health. Experts also flag that stockpiling foods may lead to hurdles in the supply chain and food shortages that may impact vulnerable demographics.
“No-one should stockpile food. Stockpiling may negatively impact supply chains and could cause shortages that would be dangerous for vulnerable people. We should, however, be volunteering to shop for vulnerable people and in these cases it would make sense to try to buy supplies for five to seven days at any one time, to reduce the frequency of exposure to others. There is also no need to buy highly processed foods, as almost all foods have a shelf life of five to seven days,” Judith Liddell, Executive Director from the European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians (EFAD), tells NutritionInsight.
Liddell suggests planning menus to ensure there is no food waste and that one has all the ingredients needed for several days, to reduce the number of visits to the shops. “Wash hands thoroughly as soon as you return from shopping and regularly throughout the day. Moreover, go out and exercise in the sunshine and fresh air every day and consider taking a multivitamin tablet daily if you are not able to eat a well-balanced diet for any reason,” she adds.
Frozen healthy foods
Immunity is another aspect that nutrition can help build and NutritionInsight previously reported on its importance and how the industry is responding. Processed foods that can be readily consumed have proved popular, but experts note that the focus should be on frozen fruit and vegetables, which are long lasting and healthier.
If consumers do need to stay home for longer than five to seven days, then canned and frozen fruit and vegetables can still be a good option as they are highly nutritious, affordable and easy to cook with, Aisling Pigott, Dietician at the British Dietetic Association (BDA), tells NutritionInsight. Pulses and lentils are another choice, as they are excellent sources of protein, fiber and nutrients, she adds.
“Root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots and rutabaga, are relatively long-lasting when stored in a cool, dark place. Frozen foods, including fish, fruits and vegetables; canned foods, such as tomatoes; dried foods, such as pasta and lentils are all long-lasting and will contribute to a healthy diet,” notes Liddell.
Flagging food security
In the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP confirmed that the government is considering asking people aged over 70 and those with particular health conditions to self-isolate at home, to avoid infection with COVID-19. This could be for an extended period. In EU countries such as Belgium, Italy, Spain and Greece, governments have already mandated that people “stay inside” to flatten the pandemic’s contamination curve. People, especially those in the vulnerable groups, are only allowed to go out for groceries and medicine, while also maintaining a safe distance from others. In places such as Italy, where the virus is rampant, retailers have gone as far as letting one person in at a time or handing out groceries themselves, without allowing people to enter stores.
However, people began to stockpile foods when the virus was still at a nascent stage in Europe and the US. This means that shortages have already been evident, with retailers’ shelves emptied and many consumers left without access to foods. For vulnerable groups such as older people, the matter of food security is a pronounced one, but it does expand to all consumers as well.
“We have to realize that food and nutrition are important aspects of promoting our immune system and recovery from illness. If we are poorly or unable to prepare food then convenience food becomes our only option and will be essential to promoting health and recovery. However, if you are well and able to prepare meals, extra time at home may be an opportunity to choose home cooked options. It can be easy to rely on processed snacks like biscuits, cakes and sweets during this time, so setting good routines around food is important,” explains Pigott.
UK-based food and farming organization Sustain has called for the government to help secure food supplies for all low-income households as part of a coherent strategy against coronavirus. “We must not imagine that emergency food banks can step up to feed the very large number of people who will experience severe food insecurity over the coming weeks. We must reliably take food-insecure households and hungry children out of the equation, so that social services and voluntary groups can then focus mainly on assisting older and housebound people to stay safe and well fed,” notes Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive at Sustain.
Meanwhile, US-based Food Handler Solutions was also inspired by food security concerns and has made the decision to provide its accredited online food safety training program for free to anyone who wishes to learn more about proper personal hygiene, controlling the spread of virus and bacteria along with proper cleaning and sanitizing in a kitchen and other key food safety topics.
“Nothing is more important than making tools available to the public that will make them feel more confident and secure that the food they are serving to their families is safe and their food preparation environment at home is as healthy as possible,” says Bart Christian, Chairman of the Board of Food Handler Solutions.
Despite all precautions and measures, concern over COVID-19’s proliferation are rising. With consumers confined in their homes, professionals away from their desks and the market at a stagnant phase, it remains to be seen what the real effects of the virus are on the industry and the economy. A healthy diet is a priority, so consumers globally can emerge from the threat and go on with their lives as before.
By Kristiana Lalou
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