As the COVID-19 pandemic ushers in a new normal of social distancing and disinfectants, people have become hyper aware of surfaces they come in contact with—including food. While concerns mount about the safest way to acquire meals and groceries, one question remains: Can you contract novel coronavirus through food?
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In a word: No. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report that right now, there’s no evidence that food is likely to transmit COVID-19. And from what experts know about other strains of coronavirus, respiratory viruses are generally not foodborne, says food microbiology researcher and associate professor at University of Illinois Michael J. Miller. Instead, the CDC says direct exposure to droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes is the main way the virus spreads. And so the surface of certain foods like produce, and the packages that foods come in (particularly smooth surfaces) could be a place where virus particles could linger and then transfer to your hands.
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Fresh produce and other food packaging
Say you grab an apple with the virus on it, and then touch your mouth, eyes, or nose. “In this case, food is like any other surface where the virus can survive for extended periods of time,” Miller says. While there is therefore a risk of becoming infected, it’s extremely low since it’s not being transmitted from one person to another.
For more peace of mind, the CDC reports “there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.” That said, whoever touched your product at your local market does have the capacity to spread their own virus, if infected, onto your packaging or food. So make sure you maintain food safety recommendations, like rinsing produce or removing outer surfaces, and washing your hands frequently and thoroughly.
Take-out meals and farmers markets
As far as getting your meals via takeout, delivery, drive-thru, or grab-and-go options, restaurants continue to follow the same food preparation and sanitization practices required by the FDA and the state’s Department of Health. That makes the moment of transfer between you and a food carrier more of a risk for infection than the actual food. A couple rules of thumb: Keep a six-foot distance from others or opt for contact-free deliveries, throw away the outer packaging and disinfect surfaces it touched, and wash your hands in between each touch point.
Farmers markets also remain open in some communities—and can provide a great way to support your local vendors—but the same social distancing and hygiene practices apply here, too.
While you stay safe, though, remember: Eating well brings comfort to the body and mind in times of uncertainty. So enjoy each bite—and give your hands an extra wash.
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