As most shops open for home delivery again and people start gorging on street food and other sweets, many sweet shop owners across India have started using the UV light mechanism to disinfect food items and killing the virus.
How safe is the use of UV rays on sweets, eatables and other surfaces; explain PGI doctors from Department of Community Medicine and School of public health.
Many sweet shops and outlets have started using UV light machines. What is it and how helpful are they? Do they kill the virus?
PGI doctors, and additional professor, Ravindra Khaiwal and professor Dr Sonu Goel said that the UV radiations are normally used to kill microorganisms.
“Particularly, UV-C, also known as Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is a disinfection method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet light to kill or inactivate microorganisms by destroying their nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions and stops their replication. UVGI is used in a variety of applications, such as food, air, and water disinfection. Few research studies have found that UVC radiation is also effective in killing coronaviruses on various surfaces, but efficiency is variable for different kinds of surfaces depending on their texture,” the doctors said.
However, Dr Goel added that UV technique is good but also costly, which many cannot afford same.
Which surfaces can the UV rays can be helpful on? Are they beneficial to use on all eatables, including freshly made stuff and vegetables and fruits? To what extent can they provide safety?
They are useful for smooth surfaces like surfaces of some vegetables are rough and the virus can harbour in the strains.
“As UVGI is being widely used in the food industry for disinfection and is found very effective in killing various pathogens like E.Coli, Listeria monocytogenes, etc. on the surfaces of fruits and vegetables. They can work on cash or medicine strips etc,” said the doctors.
“This technique can be useful for killing coronavirus on eatables, but 100 per cent elimination of the virus is challenging, due to the different texture and roughness of surfaces of different eatable items. It can work to disinfect a box of ice cream, cash or sweets box but not some vegetables like cauliflower or any other rough surface. Hence we also need to ensure other hygiene practices,” the doctors said.
Big sweet shop owners are going ahead with UV sanitisation and Modified Atmospheric packaging both. What is MAP?
With the fear of the virus harbouring on sweet boxes and eatables, sweet shop owners across country have adopted this UV Ray’s mechanism and MAP to ensure that they don’t lose their clientele.
Firoz H Naqvi, Director Federation of Sweets and namkeen manufacturers, Mumbai and General Secretary of the All India Sweets shop association said that sweet shop owners in various cities have introduced UV mechanism.
“Many have introduced it and the introduction of a UV chamber at the entrance in approx 5000 sweet shops in the country, is also in the works. A UV channel is basically a UV tunnel so that without interference of any salesperson, the customers can directly pick their sweets box or eatable after it passes through the tunnel.”
Owner of chain of Sindhi sweets in the region, Neeraj Bajaj said that with the fear of virus looming large on the food industry, they introduced UV sanitisation and MAP.
“Empty boxes are first passed through the UV tunnel and then passed again after filling the product. Then the product is flushed with food grade Nitrogen to flush out the air containing moisture which is then sealed thus increasing the shelf life without adding any preservative. For example, Motichur ladoo, which usually has a shelf life of three days, can stay upto 30 days after being UV sanitized and MAP,” said Bajaj.
Jay Sharma of Gwalia Sweets, Ahemedabad said, “We were the first ones to introduce UV sanitisation and MAP. We want to tell customers that our products are safe to consume.”
What is the cost factor involved in these techniques?
The UV light mechanism comes in various forms like hand held machines and chambers.
The hand held machines and chambers range from Rs 2000 to 1.5 lakh. In case of entire mechanism of both UV sanitisation chambers and MAP, it costs over Rs 25 lakh.
In case of small vendors who are unable to afford these mechanisms, what are people advised to do?
The doctors said that the concern is not about preparation as most snacks like samosas, golgappas or tikkis are fried at a temperature over 250 degrees centigrade in which the virus doesn’t survive. However, its handling is a serious concern as the paper or polythene or box in which the seller is packing can be infected.
In case of using boxes, the PGI doctors said that all sweets are completely safe to consume if a no-touch policy is followed after making the sweets. It is just that the cardboard box they are packed in can be risky or when they are handed over to the customer.
“The box can be infected and the virus survives on it for 3-4 hours. Even otherwise, the sweets will be put in the box by a salesperson and if they touch any infected surface with their hand even after wearing gloves, it will infect the sweets. Here too I will suggest, the packing may look attractive but customers can they take own containers,” advised Dr Goel.
What about golgappas? That’s the most sought-after item in Chandigarh?
“Golgappas are also fried so that is not an issue, but a serious cause of concern is the potato stuffing which is done by the vendor or when they dunk it in the spicy water. Even if the vendor wears gloves, you can’t be sure of not catching the infection because the virus can stick to the gloves also if the vendor touches an infected surface. In that case, the infected gloves will do more harm. We suggest people to not take this item and avoid packing it directly in polythene,” said the doctors.
The two doctors said that hand hygiene in such cases is a very big issue. “Safety comes from washing hands but nails can be risky. Because if the vendors’ nails are not properly cut, even if he washes hands, it is risky. Nails harbour the virus,” they said.
The doctors said that proper hygiene should be followed with visible packing.
And what about samosas and tikkis which are being home delivered?
The food items should not be directly packed in any polythene as the virus survives on polythene for a longer period. Any paper packing should also be avoided. “I suggest, if someone is really craving it, they should take their own containers or use their own tissue paper, which will be safe,” said Dr Khaiwal.
If it is still unavoidable, discard the packet in which these items are packed outside your house and bring them in, said the doctors.
How can cash be handled at these shops for those without the UV mechanism?
Additional Professor Ravindra Khaiwal said that the virus doesn’t survive for a period on cash.
“I will suggest people to use cards. Even if the swipe machine has changed many hands and is infected, the debit or credit card they swipe can be sanitized as regular sanitizers work well on plastic surface,” he said.
The doctors added that there is no evidence that sanitizers work on cash.
“Still, if people have no option but cash, I suggest people to keep it in their wallet or a closed box for two hours and sanitize their hands immediately before touching them to your nose or mouth or any other surface,” Khaiwal added.
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