COVID-19: A Few Food Safety Precautions


Is Our Food and Food Delivery Safe?

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Is our food safe? Reassuringly, there's currently no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted through food. However, there are a few precautions regarding how we handle food and food delivery. See helpful facts and timely tips on food safety.

Food and Food Packaging

Both the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which share responsibility for the safety of the nation’s food supply, say there’s currently no evidence that raw or cooked food itself, including food imported from China or other nations, can spread COVID-19. The same goes for food packaging. 

Think about why:

  • The organisms that cause food poisoning (aka food-borne illnesses) (e.g., listeria, salmonella, campylobacter) attack the gastrointestinal system. The symptoms of these illnesses include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. 
  • COVID-19 is a viral respiratory illness that attacks our nasal passages, throat, and lungs. The virus enters our bodies primarily through the nose and mouth, when we’re in close contact with an infected person.

Some infectious disease specialists say the virus may also come in through the eyes. The main symptoms include fever, headache, dry cough, and breathing difficulties, though new data reveal that some people infected with COVID-19 lose their sense of taste and/or smell; a small subset also does experience loss of appetite and gastrointestinal symptoms before they come down with the classic respiratory symptoms. Some infected people have very mild or no symptoms at all.


Is It Safe to Order Food Delivery & Takeout?

Because the COVID-19 virus can remain infective for hours or even days on hard surfaces, experts say it’s possible (though not likely) for a healthy person to pick up virus particles on one of those surfaces and transmit them to their own mouths, noses, or eyes by rubbing their face. Another reason they keep warning us to keep from touching our faces.

  • What we know: Last week, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was detectable for up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel, up to 24 hours on cardboard, up to four hours on copper, and up to three hours in aerosols.

What to do:

  • Wash your own hands after removing the packaging and before eating your food.
  • Keep in mind that food delivery means human interaction. Even if drivers wear gloves, people touch their faces multiple times an hour. It's best to limit interactions right now.

If you're at high risk, you may wish to be careful with the containers. Empty the food into new containers, then discard them (a big trash bag will do), and wash your hands before eating.

See this helpful video about ordering food and food delivery from a cooperative extension food-safety expert.

Related TopicCOVID-19: Disinfecting Your Home



Food-Safety Caveats

Marion Nestle, a well-known scholar and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health offers a cautionary note on coronavirus and food:

  • Someone who has the virus but doesn’t show symptoms could cough or sneeze or handle raw foods. If you handle the foods before cooking them, you could pick up the virus.
  • Cooking should kill the virus (don’t re-use the bag the foods came in). Salad greens or any other raw vegetables should always be washed, even greens that have been pre-washed and salads that come pre-bagged.
  • As for salad bars: they usually have glass or plastic screens and long handled spoons. Again, contamination is possible but unlikely. If such things worry you, the remedy is easy: cook your food and eat it while it’s hot.

Tips on Handling Food

Nestle passes along some of the CDC’s advice about Coronavirus as it relates to food.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.

Food Safety Rules

It’s always important to follow all the standard food-safety rules, but especially during quarantine. (Suggestion: print off and post this poster in your kitchen.) Your food may not be able to transmit the COVID-19 virus, but you don’t want to end up in the local emergency room, or even suffer at home with a bad case of food poisoning during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The World Health Organization says that investigations into food safety with regard to COVID-19 continue. Heed their advice about raw meat, raw milk, and other uncooked or undercooked animal products:

  • Current evidence on other coronavirus strains shows that while coronaviruses appear to be stable at low and freezing temperatures for a certain period, food hygiene and good food safety practices can prevent their transmission through food.
  • Specifically, coronaviruses are thermolabile, which means they are susceptible to normal cooking temperatures (70°C/158°F). Therefore, as a general rule, the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, raw milk or raw animal organs should be handled with care to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Avoid Fake Claims

A final note: Please stop looking for a miracle preventive or cure for COVID-19, or listening to those promoting them without offering hard evidence for their claims. As Nestle notes (scroll down if you want to check links to the warning letters):

The FDA has issued warnings to individuals and companies making unsupported claims for COVID-19 cures, one of them to the TV evangelist Jim Bakker (he hawks supplements of colloidal silver). Warning letters went to the Jim Bakker Show, as well as Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., Xephyr, LLC doing business as N-Ergetics, GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC.

Research labs around the world are working to develop vaccines to prevent being infected by COVID-19, and therapeutic drugs to combat the virus in sick people. They will all need testing to determine their safety and effectiveness before becoming widely available. Let's wait for the scientists and certifying bodies to approve new protective agents. All of us want drugs that do what they say they'll do without harming us in the process.

Meanwhile, wash your hands and keep your distance.

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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