With so much talk about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and how it spreads, many consumers are now wondering if they should be concerned about food safety. After all, a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets and person-to-person contact could definitely contaminate food, right? What about grocery stores and restaurants – are they safe?
In response to so many consumer concerns, Huffington Post contacted leading public health and food safety experts to find out if consumers should be worried about getting coronavirus from food. Here is an overview of what they found.
Can You Get Coronavirus From Food?
Researchers say that there is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted through food. According to a report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
“We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.”
This statement refers to the food or packaging itself being contaminated. A food safety specialist at North Carolina State University further says that,
“We don’t see evidence of any respiratory viruses being transmitted through food in the past.”
These statements suggest that food and packaging itself cannot transmit coronavirus. However, if someone who has the virus coughs or sneezes then handles food, they could contaminate it. This is especially concerning for produce items that are often open and heavily touched at grocery stores. If someone handles produce that is contaminated, they could then spread the virus to other products or themselves.
Are There Foods that Consumers Should Avoid?
Experts believe that coronavirus does not spread through food. Therefore, they suggest that there are no foods in particular that consumers should avoid. On the other side of that coin, consumers may need to be cautious with every food that they purchase – but not because of the food itself.
Rather, consumers should be cautious about contact with other people who may be sick. Also, consumers should be aware of how coronavirus spreads, which is primarily through droplets that become airborne when someone coughs or sneezes. If you are standing near a bin of tomatoes and the person next to you sneezes openly, droplets may land on any of those tomatoes. If you handle those tomatoes and touch your mouth before washing your hands, you could get sick with any germs the person who sneezed left behind.
With that in mind, it seems that any item at a store, including carts, shelves and packaged items could possibly contain the coronavirus.
Should I Stop Shopping?
Experts say that consumers should not stop shopping or going into public places. Instead, they urge consumers to use protective measures. A food specialist at Rutgers University says that consumers should continue to do what they would normally do to reduce the risk of getting the a virus or the flu. Their advice includes:
- Wash your hands regularly
- Stay home if you are sick
- If your kids are sick, keep them home from school
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Keep a distance of at least three feet from people who have an active cough or are sneezing
- Talk to your doctor if you have a fever and cough and experience difficulty breathing
Essentially, experts advise consumers to use good hygiene and common sense when it comes to germs and possibly spreading them.
As for food that you purchase and bring home, experts say to practice good food safety and hygiene practices, such as:
- Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly
- Wash your hands before and after handling fresh foods
- Do not use the same cutting board or surface to prepare raw meat as you do other foods
- Wash your hands after handling raw meat
- If you have symptoms like coughing or sneezing, avoid preparing food for other people
- Disinfect kitchen surfaces regularly
- Make sure food is properly frozen or refrigerated
- Cook food to a proper internal temperature
Are Restaurants Safe while Coronavirus is Spreading?
Experts are also letting consumers know that restaurants are just as safe as they always have been. That means that you may be at risk for viruses that can spread in public places, through food handling or through contact with people who are sick. This risk is not limited to coronavirus for sure. Foodborne illnesses, viruses, influenza, bacterial infections – all of these can spread at restaurants or in other public places. Again, experts say the key to staying well is using good food safety and hygiene practices.
Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University says,
“The respiratory virus risk in restaurants is really more about being in the same location as a lot of people, some of who can be depositing the virus on surfaces like tables, doors, menus, and managing that with a hand washing and alcohol-based sanitizer regime is an effective step to reduce risks of both COVID-19 and Influenza.”
If the public follows expert advice, then people who are sick will stay home and avoid the potential for spreading viruses in places like restaurants.
Should I stockpile Food and Supplies?
If you have recently visited a supermarket there is no doubt you have seen empty shelves in the cleaning and household section. Communities across the United States are battling shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, Lysol, cold medicine and hand soap. This is leaving some people to wonder whether they should stockpile supplies when they do find them available? Others are simply concerned with whether their regular household products will be available again in the near future.
Experts agree that having certain items on-hand is not a bad idea. There are quarantine zones, and some people are under quarantine inside their homes for up to 14 days. Of course, in these situations it is certainly helpful to have a surplus of standard household items and food. Experts are not suggesting that you hoard months worth of supplies, however.
When people stockpile or hoard resources, it impacts the supply of products that are available to the community at large. This is what is causing so many issues in communities where products are now not available. It has also led to some communities experiencing price gouging for basic items like disposable gloves, face masks and certain medical supplies.
Instead, experts suggest having 14 days worth of non-perishable food items, water and household supplies on hand. Experts also urge consumers to be mindful of how much they buy. Not only because of availability issues, but also because of the potential for food to go bad before it is used. Food waste is a significant concern during disease outbreaks like coronavirus.
Where to Get More Information about Coronavirus
The coronavirus situation is constantly changing. One of the best ways to prepare and plan ahead is to make sure you have accurate information about the situation. You can find out more about the overall coronavirus outbreak, as well as information about individual states from the following resources:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
You can also check with your local or state health departments to find out more about how coronavirus may be impacting your community.