Frequently Asked Questions: COVID-19 and Food Safety

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By Pearl McLeod, Development and Outreach Associate

At Center for Food Safety, we define food safety very broadly. To make our food system safer and more environmentally sustainable, we do everything from protecting pollinators from toxic pesticides to improving soil health to reduce climate change. We also do work to ensure FDA’s food testing protocol is as efficient as it can be in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to eat safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s a roundup of answers to the most frequently asked questions with links to reliable resources to help you stay safe. Sign up for Center for Food Safety’s email list to get tips, resources, and advocacy opportunities delivered to your inbox.

Frequently Asked Questions: COVID-19 and Food Safety

Q: Can I become sick with coronavirus (COVID-19) from food?

The USDA states that it is “not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.” In general, one should still follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often with soap and water, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.

Q: Will food products be recalled that were produced in a facility during which a worker was potentially shedding the virus while working?

The FDA “does not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19, as there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packaging.”

Prior to the pandemic, production facilities have already been required to control risks associated with potentially ill workers. Food production facilities are required to maintain sanitized food contact surfaces and workers are required to take cleanliness steps when working in a facility. Some production facilities have closed their plants out of precaution after one or several employees tested positive for COVID-19, but this should not be a concern for purchasing groceries as long as you are following best hygiene practices in the store, at home, and when handling the products.

Q: Can I get sick with COVID-19 from touching food, the food packaging, or food contact surfaces, if the coronavirus was present on it?

According to statements from USDA, CDC, and FDA, “there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19” at this time. Since it is still possible for the virus to survive on surfaces and objects, we recommend following the USDA’s 4 key steps of food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Additionally, you should continue to frequently wash your hands and avoid touching your face and mouth when handling food products from the store or restaurant. It is also a good practice to carefully discard the packaging that a food came in to avoid any possibility of contamination from handling by people who have the virus.

Q. Should I avoid takeout or delivery from restaurants?

Food from your local restaurants is still a safe option, especially when you can opt for contactless delivery options or pick-ups. To go the extra mile, we recommend transferring food to your own serving ware, getting rid of the packaging, and washing your hands before eating.

Q: How do I handle self-service food buffets such as salad bars in a retail setting related to COVID-19?

While there is no current evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packaging, we recommend avoiding these self-service areas. Avoiding these buffets helps increase our physical distancing and contact with high traffic areas. Buffets are a frequent source of food pathogens, so it is best to avoid them now. When you do visit public settings like the grocery store, make sure to follow the hygiene and social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC.

Q: Is food imported to the United States from countries affected by COVID-19 at risk of spreading COVID-19?

The FDA, CDC, and USDA are not aware of any reports of human illnesses at this time that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food, food packaging, or any other imported goods from these countries. The COVID-19 virus is not known to survive for the period it takes to ship products from overseas. However, it is still especially important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling foods and goods.

Q: Does cooking foods kill the virus that causes COVID-19?

The Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University states that, “Yes, the coronavirus is killed by cooking to the safe minimum cooking temperatures specified by FDA and USDA.” Read more about the minimum cooking temperatures for different foods.

To date, there have been no known cases of COVID-19 being contracted from food or food packaging. However, continue washing your hands and avoid touching your face when handling and preparing foods, especially when handling uncooked food products. Make sure to properly clean and sanitize food contact areas and tools as well. Read more advice from USDA about proper sanitization and cleaning.

About CFS: Center for Food Safety’s mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment. Please join our 950,000 advocates across the country at www.centerforfoodsafety.org. Twitter: @CFSTrueFood, @CFS_Press

Protecting Our Food, Our Farms & Our Environment

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