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Food Safety in The Coronavirus Era

Questions About Food and Coronavirus?

There is so much information out there about how to protect ourselves from the Coronavirus. Sometimes it is difficult to sort through all of it. This article will talk about the basics of food safety at this time.

Food Safety in The Coronavirus Era

There is no evidence at this time that food has been a source of Coronavirus infection. We do know that the virus passes from person to person when individuals are close to one another; this happens as respiratory droplets become airborne when someone coughs or sneezes.

Food safety in this time of Coronavirus can be summarized as:

1) Follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to protect against an infection (more details on each bulleted item at the CDC link)

  • Clean your hands well and often

  • Avoid close contact

  • Cover coughs and sneezes

  • Stay home if you do not feel well

  • Wear a face mask if you are sick

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, counter tops daily

  • Keep cold foods cold, hot foods hot.

  • Put leftovers in the refrigerator quickly after meals.

  • Clean your hands well before any food preparation and before meals.

  • Be sure kitchen surfaces and utensils are clean.

As already mentioned, there is a great deal of information out there, information that seems to be from reputable sources, including respected health professionals. One recent video recommends washing individual pieces of produce for 20 seconds each—probably not necessary.

Safe Food Shopping for Others

One last important topic, with advice from Becky Mason, Tamworth Selectman and Health Officer. For those shopping for others:

  • Talk to the individual by phone and ask them to leave their list on their doorstep.

  • The volunteer should pick up the list - no contact- purchase the food, then deliver it back to who they are shopping for. Knock on the door and then leave.

  • After they have left, then the individual who they bought for should open their door and retrieve their goods.

Lastly, here are some Q&A from government sources, and links to help you read further on each site.

Q&A from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Q: Can I become sick with coronavirus (COVID-19) from food? Are meat products compromised by the Coronavirus?

A: 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. However, it is always 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 or preparing foods.

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?

A: Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Q&A from the Food and Drug Administration

Q: Should I take additional measures during the COVID-19 pandemic to mitigate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 coming into my home on food and food packaging?

A: Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. 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. CDC notes that in general, because of poor survivability of these Coronaviruses on surfaces, 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. It is more likely that a person will be exposed by person-to-person transmission involving close contact with someone who is ill or shedding the virus.

Consumers can follow CDC guidelines on how to protect yourself, especially the advice on frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; and frequent cleaning and disinfecting  of surfaces.

If you are concerned about contamination of food and food packaging you have purchased from the grocery store, wash your hands after handling food and food packages when you return from the grocery store and after removing packaging from food. In addition, it’s always critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill – to prevent food-borne illness. FDA also has advice about safely selecting and serving raw produce.

---Prepared March 30, 2020

Author: Maureen McCarthy Diamond is a retired Registered Dietitian. She spent most of her professional life working with people with end-stage kidney disease. A year ago, she joined the Board of Tamworth Community Nurse Association.

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