When COVID-19 caused businesses across Canada to close, one of the only public spaces remaining open were tied to our basic human need to eat. Grocery stores were both a necessary and acceptable destination for Canadians and yet fear persisted. Were these safe spaces?
Dr. Maria Corradini, Arrell Chair in Food Quality and Dr. Robert Hanner (a newly appointed Arrell Fellow), along with collaborators Drs. Lawrence Goodridge and Steve Newmaster, asked this question themselves and were uniquely equipped to find an answer. Along with a team of graduate students, including Arrell Scholars Maleeka Singh and Sujani Rathnayake, they designed a project to test for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 on high-traffic surfaces in food retail stores.
Nearly 1,000 samples were collected over four weeks from shopping carts, deli counters, pay terminals and freezer doors. Sites were chosen because they see high-touch traffic from shoppers.
A sigh of relief met the results: all negative for signs of the virus. The cleaning protocols and physical distancing measures put in place seemed to keep the virus off these surfaces. Canadians could take one more worry off their mind as they learned how to protect themselves best from the virus.
The results of the project emphasized that preparation and prevention are key to keeping shoppers safe and fed. This project also shows how important it is for academics to build strong relationships with non-academic partners. While retailers were understandably nervous about what this study was going to show, the research team was able to build trust and solid relationships with some of Canada’s largest food vendors and this team worked together to bring peace of mind to consumers and businesses alike.
“Advancing the wellbeing and safety of communities in an effective manner requires solid partnerships among scholars and with industry,” says Dr. Corradini. “Although COVID-19 is still here, the evidence we collected shows us that careful public health-based practices can help us remain safe.”
Enhancing community food security requires bringing together and connecting many fields of science with partners from outside the university setting. The experts supported by Arrell Food Institute not only have important information to offer the food system, but also the vision and skills to help address our most disruptive challenges.