Nearly €2 million (U.S. $2.3 million) has been awarded to three European projects dealing with food safety during the Coronavirus pandemic.

COVICOAT is led by the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory of Portugal, Spanish supermarket chain Eroski and 2BNanoFood from Portugal. Another project, PASS, will be carried out by the University of Bologna in Italy, Lund University in Sweden and Almaplasma of Italy. The COVID-19 BAEMitup program involves SwissDeCode of Switzerland, Microbion from Italy, CSIC based in Spain, University of Helsinki, Finland, and Eurofins in France.

Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Coronavirus does not actually grow on food. Though the virus can survive on objects and surfaces, it is not known how long it can last on food and what amount would make a person sick.

Tackling the pandemic
The awards are part of a COVID-19 Rapid Response Call for innovation projects launched in May by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)’s Crisis Response Initiative and EIT Food. It was designed to fast-track products or services that could have a significant and immediate impact on challenges arising from COVID-19 on the agrifood sector.

Thirteen ventures in food safety, supply chain disruption and improved nutrition have been awarded more than €6 million ($6.8 million) and work started in early July. EIT is funded by the European Union through Horizon 2020 and has a budget of €2.4 billion (U.S. $2.7 billion) from 2014 to 2020.

COVID-19 has placed unprecedented pressure on the global food system, requiring ways of partnering to face the immediate challenges of the pandemic as well as future recovery, according to EIT Food.

Detail of projects
COVICOAT was awarded €485,000 (U.S. $554,000) and aims to develop an edible antiviral coating containing active herbal extracts to prevent surface contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables with COVID-19. Partners will then assess performance in relation to how it may change the taste, smell and color of food to ensure acceptability in the marketplace.

PASS received €667,000 (U.S.$762,000) and intends to design plasma-assisted sanitation systems for packaging, equipment and tools used in processing and handling of food products. The project’s main goal is to deactivate the COVID-19 virus. COVID-19 BAEMitup got €792,000 (U.S. $904,600) to build a diagnostic platform to improve on-site testing capacity of the food sector.

Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food, said the 13 projects demonstrate the ingenuity and dedication of the agritech community in a time of great uncertainty and disruption.

“We are as committed as ever before to supporting their resilience — as well as that of the wider European food system. We look forward to the implementation of these urgently needed innovations to help the sector collectively respond to the pandemic and rebuild our economy sustainably.”

In August, EIT Food will announce recipients of the COVID-19 Bridge Fund, designed to support startups adversely affected by the pandemic. The aim is to provide financing of between €200,000 and €500,000 (U.S. $228,500 to $571,100) to agricultural and food ventures that address one of EIT Food’s key focus areas.

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