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UW-Madison COVID-19 experts available: Food safety, finances, more

March 27, 2020

MADISON – Numerous experts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison are available to discuss the impact of COVID-19 and provide tips and information helping people navigate the challenges to their daily lives. More experts can be found at and in these tipsheets from March 23, ( March 17 ( and March 12 ( 

Food safety and health  

Monica Theis, a distinguished lecturer in the Department of Food Science, has expertise in food systems, food safety and food law, as well as healthy food and dining habits. She can discuss food safety concerns related to grocery shopping as well as restaurant carry-out, curb-side pickup and delivery. She can also discuss meal planning, food preparation, healthy eating and dining habits during this “Safer at Home” period.  

Theis notes that, according to the FDA and the CDC, there is no evidence that COVID-19 spreads through food. Standard practices in restaurants already include the most important preventive measures: keeping sick employees out of the operation, enforcing correct and frequent hand-washing, cleaning and sanitizing all food contact surfaces on a regular basis, and cooking foods to minimal internal end-point temperatures. She says the grocery industry is working to keep shelves stocked, keep employees healthy and has implemented shopping practices to protect customers. Many grocers are reducing store hours to allow for frequent and deep cleaning, as well as limiting the number of customers permitted in stores at a given time to enable proper “social distancing.” 

“Please know that there is no evidence at this time that this virus can be transmitted through food. The primary route of transmission is person-to-person,” says Theis. “Theoretically, a virus could be ‘picked up’ from a surface and then transferred through touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth; however, according to the CDC, this is not considered a primary route of transmission. My best advice is to follow the best food handling practices that are recommended any time: wash hands frequently and thoroughly, keep surfaces (especially food contact surfaces) clean, and cook food to the correct temperatures.” 

Contact:, (608) 263-2225 

Healthy eating 

Beth Olson, associate professor and extension specialist in the UW–Madison Department of Nutritional Sciences, can discuss healthy eating to help boost the immune system. In particular, she can speak to how to eat healthy when your food choices may be limited because grocery store trips are less frequent, stores aren’t fully stocked, and/or people need to rely on more shelf-stable or frozen foods than usual. She notes this challenge of “cocooning” at home can be an opportunity for people to cook or bake more, to try new recipes, and to involve their children in cooking lessons. Measuring cups provide an interesting way to teach about fractions, for instance. At the same time, this is a time when people may need to do careful meal and snack planning—to avoid slipping into mindless eating because food is so readily available in the home. 

“Spending more time at home, and lacking the ability to go out to eat, may provide us with an opportunity to spend a little more time being creative in the kitchen. It’s possible to eat healthy, even if you are using more shelf-stable and frozen foods than you normally would,” says Olson. “This may also be a good time to involve family members in preparing meals and snacks—perhaps involving kids in some learning activities—and to try a new recipe or two.” 

Contact:; (608) 265-2108 (please leave a voice message) 

Keeping kids active 

As the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down schools across the nation, many parents are concerned about keeping their children active without the help of physical education classes. UW–Madison’s Cindy Kuhrasch, who oversees the School of Education’s physical education teacher education program, sees these new circumstances as an opportunity to showcase the full potential that PE can have in children’s lives. 

To help parents come up with ideas, Kuhrasch, her colleagues, and students are updating the UW–Madison physical education teacher education program’s Facebook page regularly to provide free resources and inspiration for staying active at home. (Check it out at: 

Read more at 

Pandemic emergence and preparedness  

Josh Garoon, an assistant professor in the UW–Madison Department of Community & Environmental Sociology, studies the sociology of public health. He can address the social, economic, and political dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially health inequalities, and he can speak about how we’ve handled preparedness, planning, and response to COVID-19 and how that has affected people who are already disadvantaged. Garoon can also speak about global human-wildlife interactions, including how zoonotic diseases emerge and are managed and studied, with respect to COVID-19 and other diseases. 

“We must recognize that our pandemic preparedness and response plans rarely consider social justice seriously. This is not intentional, but it is by design. Our plans are designed to provide biomedical care; assist epidemiological analysis; and preserve the economy at the macro level,” Garoon says. “They are not designed to help localities deal with baseline inequalities, and they don’t dovetail with broader political, economic, and social reforms at the federal or state levels.  

“Our plans provide certain comforts to the comfortable: messages that ‘we will get through this together, but we are going to have to change our way of life for a while – and then we will get back to normal.’ But we now have an opportunity to recognize that our ‘normal way of life’ is itself the very operating ground of pandemics: it’s how and why pandemics emerge, and it’s how and why they are extinguished. And we could use that recognition as an opportunity to improve our ‘normal way of life.’ In short: we could, and should, act like two weeks is enough, and accept it’s not.” 

Contact:, (443) 844-7570 

Making ends meet 

Amid staggering job losses, how can families continue to put food on the table and keep the lights on? Sarah Halpern-Meekinassociate professor in the Human Development and Family Studies Department (, is a leading expert on family finances, including their use of government benefits and social ties that aid in difficult circumstances. Lydia Ashtonassistant professor in Consumer Science ( speak to WIC and SNAP food assistance programs. Megan Beaassistant professor in the Consumer Science Department ( subprime credit services like payday lending as well as parental financial support of young adults. Tim Smeedingprofessor of Public Affairs and Economics ( discuss policy responses, including child allowances to help families with children. 

Mortgage and rent payments 

Many families are worried about losing their homes. J. Michael Collins, director of the Center for Financial Security, ( is a national expert on mortgage delinquencies, including for older Americans, with a recent paper on the impact of a foreclosure moratorium on borrower repayment behaviors, as well as another specifically examining the impact of eight years’ worth of flu seasons on consumer debt repayment trends. CFS affiliate Carly Urban ( can also address mortgage policy, and affiliate Erik Hembre ( can speak to rental housing concerns. 

Student debt 

Nicholas Hillman, associate professor in educational leadership and policy (, can speak to the complex and heterogeneous nature of the student loan market that further burdens student borrowers, and Fenaba Addo, an assistant professor in consumer science ( address the racial disparities in student loan access, interest rates, and ultimate cost to borrowers. She can also discuss the racial wealth gap more generally. 

Investments and retirement planning 

Cliff Robb, associate professor in the consumer science department, can offer guidance for individuals and families concerned for their retirement savings and investments. 


Role of bats (and humans) in viral outbreaks 

Amy Wray, a doctoral candidate of wildlife ecology, can discuss the intersection of wildlife diseases and the food web, specifically the role of bats (and that of humans) in viral outbreaks and how conservation can be a solution. Her master’s thesis research focused on the feeding habits and pathogens of common vampire bats in Guatemala, and now she’s using next-generation DNA sequencing and other methods to study the diets of insect-eating bats in Wisconsin. Read a Q&A with Wray at 


Food supply chain disruption 

Under normal circumstances in the United States, we spend more than $600 billion per year on food and consume more than half of it away from our homes. The COVID-19 crisis has upended this usual state of affairs. What does this mean for food supply chains? Michelle Miller, researcher and associate director at the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, can discuss disruptions to food systems, supply chains, and food transportation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Disruption to food supply chains from COVID 19 is catastrophic to many independent businesses, from farmers who sell direct to restaurants to food distributors who sell to institutions,” Miller says. “The way the system is structured, large companies are positioned to knock out independent businesses that serve our local farmers, rural towns, and small cities and accelerate reduced resilience in the system. Now more than ever, we need a reasoned approach, based on data, to fairly distribute food and federal aid.” 

Contact: Michelle Miller,, (608) 772-8170; LinkedIn: 

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