By: Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, CFS, Chief Food and Product Safety Officer, Senior Vice President, Food Safety, FMI
Information around coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is swirling, and each day feels like it brings more information, resources, or questions. We know shoppers may be concerned about the viability and transferability of coronavirus on food packaging. We’ve compiled answers to some frequently asked questions:
Can a person contract coronavirus from food?
According to FMI’s Coronavirus FAQ document, coronavirus is a respiratory virus spread through respiratory droplets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not consider COVID-19 to be a foodborne illness, but similar actions to prevent foodborne illness can be taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The most important actions to take include proper handwashing using soap and water and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, frequent cleaning and sanitation of touch points and staying home when sick or caring for someone who is sick.
Can food packages or food products help spread the virus?
Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. This includes between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths, eyes or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. However, it’s always critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill – to prevent foodborne illness.
Can I get sick with COVID-19 from touching food or packaging if the coronavirus was present on it?
Dr. Ben Chapman, professor, food safety specialist, Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences, North Carolina State University, NC State Extension states there is no indication that food packaging material has a significant connection to virus transmission. If concerned, handling of food packaging can be followed with hand washing and/or using hand sanitizer. There is no need to disinfect your groceries since hand washing is sufficient to protect against transmission.
Consider using hand sanitizer before and after selecting produce items. Avoid touching multiple produce items when making selections. As per good food handling practices in general, wash hands before food preparation or eating, avoid touching the face and consider supplementing handwashing with the use of hand sanitizer. Just before use, make sure you rinse your produce under running water. There is no need to wash packaged fruits and vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed.” Do not wash produce with soap, detergent, or chlorine as these products are not intended for consumption.
Dr. Chapman shares more insights on coronavirus and food packaging, and ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- How to Handle Food Safely During the COVID-19 Outbreak
- FDA: Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- CDC: Food Safety and Coronavirus Disease 2019
- PFSE Safe Produce Handling