Should you reach out for that tasty free food sample offered to you at the supermarket?

As crowds in the United States thronged hypermarts like Costco to stockpile groceries last week amid mounting Covid-19 fears, many displayed considerably less fear when helping themselves to free food samples.

A Reddit post voiced concerns over consumers spreading their germs and saliva when taking samples on a shared tray.

Shortly after, US newspapers reported that Costco and Albertsons will be suspending in-store food sampling in view of Covid-19.

Food samples are still offered here at Japanese supermarkets and bakeries, but 10 in-store promoters interviewed by The Sunday Times say there has been a sharp fall in takers.

Isetan Scotts supermarket promoter Jennifer Sin, 66, estimates a 90 per cent drop in demand for her stall's cold noodle samples.

"Now, most patrons wear masks so they can't try the samples anyway. At the end of the day, we have to throw leftovers away," she says.

Following the outbreak, she has to halve what she cooks daily to reduce wastage.

Tang's Nescafe Dolce Gusto promoter Dylan Teo, 23, has seen a similar cooling in demand for his coffee and tea samples.

Are such fears warranted?

According to Professor William Chen, director of Nanyang Technological University's Food Science & Technology Programme, some are and some are not.

"Consumers should not be over-worried about food being a medium of virus transmission, because the Covid-19 virus is tissue-specific. For the Covid-19 virus, its main target is the respiratory tract, not the digestive tract," he says.

However, you might not want to reach for that toothpick just yet.

As food samples are usually served in open public spaces, he advises caution, as the samples may pose risks of cross-contamination.

Consultant dietitian Dr Naras Lapsys, 54, of The Wellness Clinic, says: "How do you know someone has not just coughed on the sample that you are touching and putting straight into your mouth?"

While Dr Lapsys notes that the chance of Covid-19 transmission through snacking off a sample tray remains low here, the hazards posed are not worth it.

"Patrons must consider how the food has been prepared, how hygienic the food handler is and the cleanliness of the food equipment and serving surfaces.

"They also have to take into account how long the sample has been sitting out, because foods that have been exposed for longer allow more time for bacteria to grow," he says.

Although food poisoning risks are always there, he advises consumers to be extra careful, given the current situation.

But avid sampler Pearly Sun, 18, a student, is not too concerned.

"I still take cooked food samples as I read that the virus would have been killed in the cooking process," she says.

Others like administrative clerk Alice Choo, 64, prefer to be cautious.

"I normally take only samples that are freshly prepared before me. But for the time being, I'm playing it safe and avoiding samples altogether," she says.

Presently, Isetan Scotts and Takashimaya department stores and some Duke Bakery outletsRead More – Source

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