COVID AND LESSONS FOR FOOD INDUSTRY
One of the key symptoms of COVID-19 has been noted to be anosmia or sudden loss of smell. (1) An estimated 10-15% of patients did not recover their loss of smell after 4 weeks. In addition, a gustatory defect (loss of taste) may also occur, however, it probably does not persist. (2) Therefore, because more patients are presenting with impaired smell and taste the question arises – what lessons did COVID teach the food and drink industry?
Loss of smell due to COVID can present in different ways such as total loss of smell (anosmia) or reduced sense of smell (hyposmia). Moreover, some patients also present with a distorted ability to taste and smell (parosmia). Loss of taste also varies in severity from complete (ageusia) to partial (hypogeusia) with distortion typically experienced as unpleasant (parageusia). Patients presenting with parosmia can describe their symptoms as foods smelling ‘off’ or ‘foul’. This can lead patients to have an extremely restrictive diet and thus suffering health related consequences.
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The charity Fifth Sense has released a guide on how to deal with parosmia as more and more reports of young people being affected have been released. It has been highlighted that making a food diary is useful in order to identify foods that trigger unpleasant sensation. Eating more bland foods (vanilla, white chocolate) can be useful and using nose clips can help to experience less symptoms. Sometimes different kinds of shakes (such as vanilla) can be used in order to get nutrients without having to taste much. (3) Additionally, omitting the main trigger ingredients such as garlic or onion from foods and following a FODMAP (Fermented, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) diet can help to reduce unpleasant stimulation. (4)
PAROSMIA AND FOOD
Some patients experiencing loss of smell may recover it, however around 30% will have to deal with prolonged symptoms. (2) Since, taste has been highly implicated and is associated with smell loss, food industry had to make new choices in order to attract or appeal to the consumer base. Foods with different textures such as crunchy, oily or creamy could be an attractive option for people who have lost their sense of smell. They may appreciate these features more and would not be focusing only on taste. (5)(6)
It has been suggested that concentrating on interesting tastes such as salty caramel, chili chocolate may also help to define the taste of that particular food. (5) Whereas previous research suggests that smell training can help to recover olfactory function. (7)(8) Food enhancers have been created by the food industry to help people with olfactory impairment to experience the taste of food more and improve tasting ability. (9)
Stimulating other senses apart from smell can also make eating a more pleasurable experience.
Vision is a strong sense therefore stimulating it with various colourful arrangements of food may help to enjoy eating more. Stimulating hearing by using music can also help to experience food emotionally. For example, listening to seagulls and sea noises can help to appreciate sea food. Stimulating a sense of touch can also help to engage with food more. For example, sourness can be stimulated with using a fork that has a sandpapery finish. (6) Moreover, temperature contrast within one meal such as a spoon of cold yoghurt on a hot curry can bring out different sensations and increase enjoyment with food.
USING OTHER SENSES
Some supermarkets have announced that they will be removing ‘best before’ dates from certain produce to cut food waste. Thus, it has been suggested that people should be using the sniff test for foods which are passed their expiration date. However, people with impaired smell sensation are at an increased risk of food poisoning as they are unable to use the ‘sniff test’. However, different dating labels mean different things:
- Best before– related to food quality
- Use by– related to food safety.
Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that while labels such as ‘use before’ can be eliminated from produce, ‘use by’ labels are essential for someone with a sensory impairment. (10)
‘BEST BEFORE’ AND ‘USE BY’
With more people suffering loss of smell due to the pandemic food industry had to make certain adaptations. New products such as meal replacement shakes have been on the rise to preserve nutrition. New dining experiences where other senses are being engaged have been explored in the restaurant business. Lastly, smell training products have been produced in order to help recover the lost sense.
Gabija is an intercalating medical student in University of East Anglia, currently studying Masters in Clinical Research (MRes). Her current research focus is ENT, in particular genes involved in anosmia.
Prof CARL PHILPOTT
Professor Philpott leads the research group based at UEA with a team of academic trainees and collaborators as well as links to national and international colleagues and units. He leads the MACRO Programme Grant and is President of the British Otorhinolaryngology & Allied Sciences Research Society. A full biography is available on the UEA website. Research details can also be found on his ResearchGate profile, and he also has a UEA Experts profile page, and a profile page on Top Doctors.
GABIJA KLYVYTE CARL PHILPOTT
University of East Anglia | United Kindgom