Food Systems and the Pandemic

By Parul Kharod

The pandemic has affected each and every aspect of our lives. Each person has been impacted in their work and home life. What is common for us all is how the pandemic has universally affected what, where, and how we eat.

Food Supply

As soon as the pandemic hit, the first noticeable change was empty grocery shelves. It felt like we were getting ready for a hurricane. This global crisis has been a revelation in how we function as a society. From the manufacturers to the retailers, from truck drivers to grocery store workers, the impact of the virus has affected various segments of the food supply chain and changed our daily grocery shopping routines. With social distancing and stay at home orders, people have shifted to online shopping and delivery, placing unprecedented demands on grocery stores.

Food Service

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the food service industry. Food markets and restaurants across the world have closed and millions of workers are out of a job. The restaurant industry, similar to the grocery chains, has had to adapt to the new normal by offering safe no-contact takeout and curb side pick-up services.

Food Safety

The safety of food has been at the forefront on people's minds. Can coronavirus be spread by food? Can cooking kill coronavirus? Can I catch coronavirus from eating out? How risky is it to go to the grocery store? There are several You Tube videos and WhatsApp messages being shared on the right way to wash produce.

According to the Center for Disease Control, currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging. Always wash all produce in running water. Before preparing or eating food, it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. For more information about food safety, food storage guides, and other materials, go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website:

Food Security

The World Economic Forum has been studying how COVID-19 has impacted the world by worsening the global hunger crisis. With lockdowns and trade restrictions, there are food shortages. With the job losses, the poor and unemployed families are running out of money to buy food. Moreover with closing of schools, millions of children are being deprived of the meals they get through school lunch and mid-day meal programs.

The virus has also severely disrupted the global trade in food with restrictions on exports. Many borders have been closed, freight lines have been unable to move food, leaving stocks rotting in storage and pushing up prices of staple grains and worsening food waste.

Food Sustainability

It is important to remember that the spread of the coronavirus started with the live animal market. In Wuhan, China, the meat sold from a bat or a snake at a food market was the trigger for this global pandemic.

Live animal and bird markets are a breeding ground for organisms that may not cause disease in animal hosts but can be deadly to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals." Meat processing workers around the world have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19. Multiple outbreaks among meat and poultry processing facility workers have occurred in the United States as well.

It is important to start thinking about what we eat and where it comes from. All major world health organizations have called attention to the way animals are factory farmed and have urged to reduce consumption of meat.

People moving to a more plant-based diet with less meat and with more plants will reduce not only risks of life-threatening diseases, but also the environmental impact of the food system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the weak points in our food systems but has also offered an opportunity for us to really think about our food practices and eating habits. We have to rethink our agricultural practices, including those that rely on raising tens of millions of animals in close quarters. We also need to take climate action to prevent the next pandemic. Preventing deforestation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing air pollution, and preventing loss of biodiversity are extremely crucial for environmental sustainability and the balance of ecosystems.

It behooves us to pay attention and make conscious decisions to ensure a safer and healthier future for us and the next generations.

To understand the importance of our choices, be sure to read this blog:

Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at