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Can you catch COVID-19 from food?

Boxes of takeout food.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

The thought may have crossed your mind as you navigate grocery store aisles or order takeout in the midst of a pandemic: Can you catch the new coronavirus from food?

Experts say there's currently no evidence of the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, being transmitted through food. 

"We don't really have any evidence that food or food packaging is a source for getting sick" from COVID-19, said Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.

Chapman stressed that there's a lot we don't know about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2. Our understanding about the spread of the disease, and the risk food poses, could change as more information becomes available.

But as far as we know, the disease appears to be spread mainly from person-to-person through virus particles that are spread when someone coughs or sneezes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While COVID-19 can theoretically be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes, that's not thought to be its primary mode of transmission, according to the CDC. 

Why food is low risk 

There are also several factors that could make transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through food less likely, even if the virus is present on food or a food worker catches it.

First, the food safety measures that are already in place to prevent foodborne illness — such as frequent hand-washing, cleaning of surfaces and utensils, and cooking food to the right temperature — would also reduce the transmission of any virus particles through food.

"One of the benefits we have in the food world is we're already thinking of those things a lot —  we're constantly trying to stay away from transmission of foodborne pathogens in normal, regular times," Chapman told Live Science.

Another factor is the biology of the virus. It cannot survive for weeks at a time on surfaces —  a characteristic of other foodborne viruses such as norovirus, according to the Centers for Science in the Public Interest. (Preliminary studies have found the new coronavirus may last a few hours to a few days on certain surfaces.) And unlike bacteria, viruses cannot grow inside food, so the amount of virus in the food would be expected to dwindle with time, rather than grow.

Also, in theory, this type of virus should not survive well in the stomach, which is very acidic. "That's good news around food,"  Chapman said. 

Still, the extent to which people can become infected by touching their mouths, or eating contaminated food, is unclear.

"It's not that it's not possible" for people to become infected with COVID-19 through food, Chapman said."There's always this possibility. But I want to make the best risk management decision based on the best science and evidence, and we just don't have any evidence in that area" right now, Chapman said.

Tips for groceries and takeout 

Although the risk of catching COVID-19 from food is likely low, there are some steps you can take to further reduce your risk. Here are some tips. (Chapman and his colleagues have also put together some COVID-19 resources regarding food safety for consumers and the food service industry.)

Store-bought food:

  • It's always a good idea — even when there's no pandemic — to rinse fresh fruit and vegetables with water to remove dirt, debris and pesticides, and reduce levels of foodborne germs. 
  • There's no need to wash food with soap. "Soap is for hands, not for food," Chapman  said. 
  •  If you are concerned about food packaging, you can wash your hands after handling the packaging. 
  •  If you are concerned about your food, you can cook it at 149 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius) for 3 minutes, which will significantly reduce levels of any virus particles, Chapman said. 

Takeout:

  • Food that comes from restaurants is "really, really low risk" because food industry workers already have a heightened awareness about food safety. To further reduce the risk, Chapman encourages people to wash their hands after handling food packaging or takeout bags. 

It's also important for employers in the food industry to have strong employee health policies. Food workers should stay home if they start to feel symptoms, even if they haven't been diagnosed with COVID-19, he said.

Originally published on Live Science.  

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  • Concerned Citizen
    Sorry, but that sounds like a load. So if people that have the coronavirus have no symptoms and handle produce for example you are saying to rinse it off in water? How is that going to reduce or kill the virus in any way shape or form? You mentioned soap is for hands, not for food. So please let the American people know what is used to sanitize fruit because you can't convince me that water is going to kill a deadly living organism. Honestly removing a pesticide with water is probably the craziest thing I have seen all day and I am informed. Also, it sounds extremely promising that cooking at 149 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 minutes will significantly REDUCE levels of virus particles so there is no sure way to know that what you are eating will infect and kill you. Nicely written. I am also intrigued that the comments don't show up on the actual post either. Good day.
    Reply
  • belangers
    admin said:
    The risk of catching COVID-19 from food appears very low, but there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk further.

    Can you catch COVID-19 from food? : Read more
    Your response is a load of nonsense. Viruses are well known to infect bacteria, which are called bacteriophages or "phages" in medicine. The virus recodes the bacteria and restructures them to create a completely different microbe with the ability to inject cells of the host (which would be the same type of bacteria or susceptable bacteria, then the cell explodes, multiplying exponentially into the host over and over, so NO, you are wrong since there is bacteria in the air, all surfaces, and millions in human mouths, noses, etc. The way to extinguish this type of bacteria and virus needs both an effective antiviral as well as an antibiotic that is capable of killing the bacteria hosting the virus. This is why new attempts of the US Government to treat COVID 19 will be coming to those of NYC with old anti malaria antiviral and azithromycin since it was amazingly effective on SARS patients in studies. This isn't just a virus, it has moved on to infect other things we have in our bodies, that is why it seems so virulent, when it is actually being transmitted by bacteria that is everywhere, not going through masks, etc. You can get this virus anywhere, that is why it isn't going away until it is treated. The chinese know this as they have stopped the disease from ravaging their country and just let it continue to plague us. They want this to happen.
    Reply
  • belangers
    Concerned Citizen said:
    Sorry, but that sounds like a load. So if people that have the coronavirus have no symptoms and handle produce for example you are saying to rinse it off in water? How is that going to reduce or kill the virus in any way shape or form? You mentioned soap is for hands, not for food. So please let the American people know what is used to sanitize fruit because you can't convince me that water is going to kill a deadly living organism. Honestly removing a pesticide with water is probably the craziest thing I have seen all day and I am informed. Also, it sounds extremely promising that cooking at 149 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 minutes will significantly REDUCE levels of virus particles so there is no sure way to know that what you are eating will infect and kill you. Nicely written. I am also intrigued that the comments don't show up on the actual post either. Good day.
    you are 100% correct, the virus won't die in water. This is why it is spreading. I just did quite a bit of research and have found that covid-19 is a nano virus in the size range of 12 to 14 microns while the original SARS and MERS are approximately 140 to 165 microns, a huge difference in size.

    Since it is a nano virus, and water vapor that is exhausted from humans with normal breathing is larger than the virus, it is possible for the covid-19 to infect the water vapors where similar to SARS (from the actual 2007 SARS study) can stay alive in the vapor for up to 45 minutes and fly as far as the wind could take it. This means an infected human even with a mask on that has an exhale vent could exhale just passing fruit or produce and if the next person picks it up, they could easily be infected.

    The problem is that it could live on surfaces for 4 to 5 days, get picked up and handled, or the fruit sprayer could spray water mist on it and spread it about the store, which is easier than we think. Also, SARS lived in urine and fecies for up to 4 days, where it could easily infect thousands if it goes to the Grandfathered sewer routed, right into a river, which still happens as these plants have not been 100% eliminated.

    The virus particles are also smaller than an N95 mask could protect from, this is why doctors and other medical staff are becoming infected. Before they take the masks off, they should spray themselves, their gloves,. and their faces with grain alcohol. Close the eyes, spray it on heavily and let it dry before taking off the PPE.

    The removal should be happening in a decontamination chamber as it is done in Universities and BioLabs..

    The Surgeon General should be ashamed of himself for telling people not to waste their money on masks, as it has already proven to help as the numbers are going down as we wear them and take other actions such as stay home, decontaminate mail, parcels and food products and packaging before handling them in your home.

    We simply can't believe Snopes or other Fact checking websites with the propaganda they spread about the supposed "low chance of spreading infection to others".

    I almost died when I heard Trump say it's a very small risk that people will pass it after half of Wuhan died and Italy was being ravaged. Low risk my behind. All they had to do was see how planes, boats and other methods of public transportation were killing people like flies.

    They still need to insist on spraying mail as the Croatians did when Typhus spread everywhere. They invented quarantine, and anytime quarantines happen, all efforts should be taken to eliminate human spread by technology. All travel should have immediately been banned in and out of the USA no matter what. All mail and parcels stopped because we don't know which terrorist has tested positive and spread it by mail, which is very likely since plastic coated paper will carry live virus particles for days and make it anywhere.

    Lastly, they need to use filters with smaller than 12 nm filtering ability in all air duct systems. This is the main reason why sars, mers and sars- cov-2 has been transmitted through air systems in large buildings. It will continue to do so until everybody sick is gone and would take powerful chemicals to disinfect and eliminte the particles flying through the air in water vapor which is everywhere.
    Reply
  • sergio caro
    Have you ever been to a GrubHub, Uber eats or any other kitchen?
    Lots of people, chefs, assistants, in small places, chatting, involuntary "spraying", maybe coughing, over food being prepared, or even food ready to be delivered.

    When you eat it, 1h after, certainly the virus is still alive. Before reaching your stomach, it will have contact with your mouth, esophagus, pharynx, and other mucous tissues.

    Maybe thas why people, even in self-quarantine, are getting infected!!
    Reply
  • IK92
    Concerned Citizen said:
    Sorry, but that sounds like a load. So if people that have the coronavirus have no symptoms and handle produce for example you are saying to rinse it off in water? How is that going to reduce or kill the virus in any way shape or form? You mentioned soap is for hands, not for food. So please let the American people know what is used to sanitize fruit because you can't convince me that water is going to kill a deadly living organism. Honestly removing a pesticide with water is probably the craziest thing I have seen all day and I am informed. Also, it sounds extremely promising that cooking at 149 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 minutes will significantly REDUCE levels of virus particles so there is no sure way to know that what you are eating will infect and kill you. Nicely written. I am also intrigued that the comments don't show up on the actual post either. Good day.

    Use UV man but not like Trump suggested, put your veggies out in the sun for 2 hours, that should kill the virus. Heating the virus over 70 celsius should definitely kill it and for the love of God don't order from outside.
    Reply
  • sarajo
    it s not worth trying or taking any risks
    Reply
  • Ptizikil
    sarajo said:
    it s not worth trying or taking any risks
    Actually, it is. The obsession with cleaning is making the situation worse. People who may have been exposed to a small viral load, had a minor infection, and then mounted an immune response against the virus, all without symptoms, are now being blocked from that life-saving experience so that they can get a more serious infection later.

    Many people carrying antibodies have no known contact with infected people. They likely picked up immunity from small exposures on surfaces, food, or packaging. Even non-infective viral fragments of virions could be sparing many lives.
    Reply
  • Ptizikil
    sergio caro said:
    Have you ever been to a GrubHub, Uber eats or any other kitchen?
    Lots of people, chefs, assistants, in small places, chatting, involuntary "spraying", maybe coughing, over food being prepared, or even food ready to be delivered.

    When you eat it, 1h after, certainly the virus is still alive. Before reaching your stomach, it will have contact with your mouth, esophagus, pharynx, and other mucous tissues.

    Maybe thas why people, even in self-quarantine, are getting infected!!
    The infected ship off the coast of Japan had infected people in every part of the ship except the galley and where food was prepared. There were 0 infections there. Most were among housekeeping staff.
    Reply
  • sarajo
    I agree with Pritizikill who also said it isnt worth tking any risks
    Reply