My name is Peter Ben Embarek. I am passionate about food safety and my work at the WHO where i coordinate the response to international food safety events or food safety outbreaks. I am also working on food related aspects of emerging diseases. Many of them are linked to the way we produce, handle or move food. E.g. SARS, MERS, Nipah virus, Avian influenza (bird flu), etc...

These days, heavily involved in the international efforts to manage and control the outbreak of COVID-19, the new disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In addition to the outbreak, the world also suffer from an Infodemic ! Not easy to find out where to look for trusted information and updates. Let's try to sort out the facts from the myths. The views below are mine and are not WHO statements

Proof :

I will attempt to be here daily 19:00 -22:00 GMT+1

UPDATE: Thank you again for the large number of great questions. Sorry, i have not been able to answer all of them yet. I will continue tomorrow. I will concentrate on those i can answer meaningfully. I don't have all the answers. Thanks again for today. Will be back tomorrow.

UPDATE 19/2/2020: back online. And time to go to sleep.

Comments: 1084 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

throwtheballaway123571 karma

What are some of the major myths surrounding covid-19 that you would like to dispel?

butterNutzforYou318 karma

I really dislike the WHO myth page. I feel like the answers are more worried about misunderstanding than pure factual truth. Yes covering yourself with bleach and or alcohol works, but it's risks outweigh doing so.

FoodsafetyPeter369 karma

Thank you for that. Will pass it to my colleagues working on these.

lildinger68517 karma

How worried should we be about the Coronavirus?

FoodsafetyPeter723 karma

Each time a new disease emerge, make people sick, some seriously, and kill some people, we should be worried. However, we cannot predict how each of these disease evolves. Some like SARS disappeared after 6 months. Others can be much more severe. But often, overreacting and panic can cause more harm than the disease itself. This one like many other respiratory diseases can best be avoided by applying basic good gesture in our daily life:

For more info on the disease :

Plant-Z151 karma

Do you think that it's worrying seeing the vastly different speculations issued by experts when discussing the eventual culmination/risks of the virus?

FoodsafetyPeter359 karma

it is normal. Nobody can predict the future or how it will evolve. In a fast evolving event, it is not surprising to see divergent predictions and modelisation results.

Scythal483 karma

What's the possibility of food being contaminated by the virus if you live in an area with known coronavirus cases?

FoodsafetyPeter694 karma

Very low probability. This virus like other coronaviruses can persist/survive on surfaces (door handle, elevator buttons, handrails, etc.. and also on foods if an infected person transfer the virus inadvertently to these surfaces. But it will not survive long. A few min to a few days, depending on combination of temperature, humidity and light. On foods, it will not survive usual cooking temperatures.

Antisocialize412 karma

Surviving on a surface for up to a few days sounds terrifying actually.

FoodsafetyPeter420 karma

That is in extreme cases, mostly we are talking about minutes to hours.

katiekaffee109 karma

So I’m probably good just leaving my fruit/ produce out for a day or so?

FoodsafetyPeter240 karma

Your produce and fruits are most probably fine. don't worry.

jonathanfrisby34 karma

Can you elaborate on those conditions, and any precautions one might make to ensure the food or packaging is safe? (for example, if you were in China)

FoodsafetyPeter107 karma

best way to protect yourself is by following basic food hygiene recommendations :

As food can be contaminated with many different disease causing bacteria or viruses, the rules to make your food safe are the same for all of them including this new one.

aniruddhdodiya26 karma

As you've mentioned food.

I've read a forwarded message in WhatsApp from a doctor who said any kind of cold drinks, ice cream, any kind of preserved food, milkshakes, ice etc should be avoided.

So my question is such food should we avoid? and if answer is yes, then why?


FoodsafetyPeter141 karma

I love ice cream and shakes. Everything in moderation is always a good approach to choosing your diet. I would not know why there should be a link between these foods and the virus. It does not make much sense. inform you via trusted sources. Not forwarded messages.

meractus18 karma


FoodsafetyPeter33 karma

sources are always good

eragon289016 karma

I just bought a pink super cheap smartwatch on aliexpress and a 1000 mini pieces anime Jigsaw puzzle because the WHO said getting packages from China is safe, is this still true?

FoodsafetyPeter20 karma

yes. Enjoy both

hippokuda194 karma

What needs to be done in order to eradicate this virus?

FoodsafetyPeter381 karma

This is what the world is trying to do now. 1) identify and treat cases, 2) identify their close contacts and follow these contacts for sign of symptoms, 3 for each contact that become sick and is confirmed to be infected, repeat 1 and 2. It is about breaking chains of transmissions. The more cases and the more chains of transmissions, the more difficult it becomes. It worked in 2003 with SARS after 6 months.

Fairuse-69 karma

Expose the everyone to it until only people left standing are immune? That’s how humanity has dealt with past pandemics for most our history.

FoodsafetyPeter34 karma

Not an option because too many people will become severely ill and will overwhelm hospitals. Also, too many people may die.

vinnymcapplesauce68 karma

I'm curious about the origins of this "new" virus. Is it related to an old virus? Supposedly it "started" at a food market? What does that mean? Why/how is that relevant? Do viruses like food or something?

(assume I'm totally ignorant to this whole topic) THX!

FoodsafetyPeter151 karma

This virus belong to a group of viruses that is found in bats. This is their ecological reservoir or niche. Once in a while , they manage to adapt to another animal species through mutations and then from there, adapt to humans. We saw this scenario with SARS in 2003 with palmed civet cats as the intermediary host. Civet cats were farmed for food, so they were sold in markets. In the current case, a number of the first case identified had a link to a wholesale market, so it is believed that as similar scenario has also happened here. but this time, the animal source has not yet been identified.

FoodsafetyPeter59 karma

Thank you so much for the huge interest and the many questions. I will revert tomorrow with more answers. Sorry for not being able to answer all of them tonight.

inej536451 karma

How did you get into this? How did you know that this was the career for you, and what was your career path?

FoodsafetyPeter102 karma

When i decided on my studies, i wanted to work with something concrete. Food production was an obvious choice. I did not want to work with virtual issues like finance, bank, or the like (nothing wrong with it, just not me). Then while studying food science and nutrition, i opted for food safety. then i got a chance to work with international organizations and what started as an initial 3 years project abroad, ended up as a lifetime path.

TeddyBearBot41 karma

What are the chances of survival of the coronavirus? How is it treated?

FoodsafetyPeter120 karma

extremely good. Most people will only experience a relatively mild disease. But even a small proportion of severe cases can give substantial numbers when the affected population is very large.

Mvanrahden37 karma

Is it known how long the virus can survive on artificial surfaces, thinking about the goods that are shipped from China to all over the world?

Is there anything to keep in mind if receiving a parcel from China?

Edit: questionmark

TooBadSoSadSally3 karma

A study found it can survive up to 9 days, although I'm not sure how common that could be. Take a look for yourself:

FoodsafetyPeter4 karma

The review is looking at other coronaviruses, not this particular one. Studies on this new one are underway. we will soon know if it more or less persistent compared to other known coronaviruses.

futonpulloutbutidont35 karma

First of all thanks so much for doing an AMA, I’m wondering exactly HOW worried we should be, it seems like there has been a lot of inaccurate data reported and perhaps this is far worse then the public is lead to believe?

FoodsafetyPeter38 karma

Thank you. A new emerging disease is always something to take seriously. Follow our daily update for the most accurate info and analysis available.

AlphaPro0618 karma

How likely will COVID-19 evolve to be lethal to humans?

FoodsafetyPeter36 karma

Nobody can predict how viruses evolve.

thunder-thumbs12 karma

What's the latest on the suspected fatality rate of COVID-19? It's been confusing because we get numbers on "confirmed cases" but those are likely only the worst most obvious cases, when fatality's denominator is all people who catch it.

FoodsafetyPeter18 karma

good question. Since it appears that the vast majority of cases re mild, a number of cases are probably missed.

bluntlysorrynotsorry12 karma

What precautionary measures do you recommend for those in outbreak areas, as well as everyone else? Is this virus something the average person should be concerned about, beyond being informed enough to help avoid its spread and recognizing the symptoms?

FoodsafetyPeter23 karma

follow the recommendation of your local public health authorities. they will always be the best informed about the local situation. Otherwise, you are right, being well informed (via trusted sources and mainstream media is recommended.

durangojim7 karma

If it does make it out of China in large numbers, what advice do you have for primary care physicians in terms of diagnosing it and also protecting ourselves from the virus?

rfwaverider4 karma

What’s the best way to decontaminate before coming into a residential dwelling?

FoodsafetyPeter9 karma

wash hands with water and soap or hand sanitizers

MegBundy3 karma

What can we do up prepare for the possibility of the virus spreading in our neighborhoods?

FoodsafetyPeter3 karma

keep informed and follow good recommendations.

theoortcloud2 karma

  • 1. How bad do you think it's going to get, realistically?
  • 2. What do you make of the theories going around suggesting that it's man-made, for the sake of profiting off of vaccinations? o

FoodsafetyPeter8 karma

1) see above.

2) There is a growing consensus among experts who are analyzing the genetic sequences of the virus. The ecological reservoir of this virus is in bats and has probably jumped to human through an intermediary animal host. It belongs to a group of viruses found in bats in many parts of the world.

Mello_velo2 karma

I know it can be a little hard to compare due to the relative to lack of early communication regarding SARS, but what is the difference in infection rates in COVID19 vs SARS. Are there "super spreaders" apparent with COVID19?

FoodsafetyPeter3 karma

The 2 are very different indeed. See our Q&A n the topic. If i remember, it is one of the first questions answered

future-nomad2 karma

How can we learn more about food safety [from humanity's perspective] other than containing and stopping the diseases? [like SARS - from what I have read, the learning from the outbreaks have made the world a better place] - however, what can precautionary measures/ methods can we adopt on global scales for such outbreaks to never pop-up in the first place?

FoodsafetyPeter3 karma

for foodborne diseases, we can do a lot as consumers :

We can also push for strengthening our national food safety systems. this will indirectly, reduce the opportunities for new diseases to jump to humans via our food systems.

kans71 karma

Do we know the definite cause of the virus?

FoodsafetyPeter1 karma

not yes. see above

Jomaloro1 karma

Taking necessary precautions, would you think traveling to Japan is ok? And do you think the virus will be contained outside China? Or cases would continue to grow at a more slower pace? Than you!

FoodsafetyPeter1 karma

We do not recommend any trade or travel restrictions. It has no beneficial results. The world is working towards containment everywhere.

iamthesauceboss1 karma

Do you believe the Coronavirus will become a worldwide global issue or be more contained like Ebola was?

FoodsafetyPeter6 karma

It is already a worldwide concern with cases in all continents

foxtrot666-1 karma

Do you believe that the Chinese have built giant crematoriums to burn bodies?

FoodsafetyPeter20 karma


benedikt_lbc-1 karma

How much do you get asked whether people have to be scared?

FoodsafetyPeter2 karma

a lot, which is normal.

thefakeraymond-3 karma

What virus is currently the one we need to be most wary about? We see new coverage of the Coronavirus, but is this the threat we need to be watching for? Or is there something more widespread or worse that should be on our radar as well.

FoodsafetyPeter1 karma

New emerging diseases are always worrying. But, we have the seasonal flu every year that kills hundreds of thousand of people each year. We also have now large outbreaks of measles, both largely preventable diseases with vaccination. Just to mention a few.