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Food Safety and COVID-19

During these uncertain times, as we cope with keeping ourselves and our families healthy and practice social distancing, many are asking how the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) affects the safety of our food supply. The US Food and Drug Administration reports that “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19” (USFDA, 2020). Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission. Grocery stores and restaurants providing take-out food, are taking the necessary precautions to keep consumers and their employees safe. However, consumers should continue to practice proper food safety and personal hygiene practices. It is also important for consumers to follow the additional recommendations given by the CDC in order to stay safe (CDC, 2020). Along with the safety precautions given directly related to limiting the spread of the coronavirus, here are some practices that should be followed when purchasing and preparing food:

Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching food and food contact surfaces, and after touching packaging.

Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching food and food contact surfaces, and after touching packaging.
Donna Bowen, ©2018, Clemson Extension

Cook foods to their required minimal internal cooking temperature.

Cook foods to their required minimal internal cooking temperature.
Adair Hoover ©2016, Clemson Extension

  • Purchase food from reputable sources, such as grocery stores, convenience stores, farmer’s markets, and restaurant take out. Bring a disinfecting wipe (or paper towel soaked in sanitizer) with you to the store to wipe down your shopping cart or basket. Bring your own clean re-usable shopping bags if possible. Make sure re-usable bags are washed in hot soapy water or wiped down with sanitizer before each use.
  • Be sure to wash hands after touching food packaging. Research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has reported that the coronavirus can remain viable on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to three days, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. It is also advisable to disinfect unopened food packaging once you have brought it home from the grocery and before storing the food. Cardboard boxes should be stored in an area that does not have food contact surfaces or much interaction with people for at least 24 hours before handling or storing in the kitchen to allow for the virus to die off if it is present.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching food and food contact surfaces, and after touching packaging. Wet hands with warm running water. Add enough soap to create a good lather and scrub hands and wrists for at least 10 to 15 seconds. Pay close attention to the areas between your fingers and around your fingernails. Rinse hands with warm running water and dry hands with a single-use paper towel. Use the paper towel to turn off the water faucet and open the door if you are in a restroom. Hand sanitizers should not be used in place of handwashing, but if there are no alternatives, then a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used. Make sure hands are visibly clean and not greasy before applying the hand sanitizer, or it will not be effective.
  • Practice good personal hygiene in the kitchen. Make sure clothing is clean, hair is pulled back, and avoid touching hair, face, and cell phone (or other potentially contaminated surfaces) while cooking.
  • Clean and sanitize all food contact surfaces and equipment before and after food preparation as well as all common touchpoints (doorknobs, cabinet handles, faucet handles, refrigerator and freezer handles, etc.). Cleaning must take place before sanitizing.
    • Cleaning refers to removing all visible dirt and debris. Sanitizing refers to reducing pathogens to safe levels.
    • Cleaning should take place with hot soapy water to remove debris and grease. There are certain factors that should be considered when sanitizing to ensure that the process is effective.
    • If you are mixing your own sanitizer (i.e., with bleach), make sure to follow instructions on the proper amount of the sanitizer to mix with water. Using too much water can make the sanitizer ineffective, and using too much could be toxic.
    • Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on how long the sanitizer needs to be in contact with the surface in order to reduce pathogens. Some need as little as 30 seconds, and some may need up to 10 minutes of contact time! Know this amount of time and ensure the surface is wet with the sanitizer and allowed to air dry.
    • If bleach is used as a sanitizer, use 4 teaspoons of bleach with 1 quart of cool water. Bleach solutions should be kept covered and made fresh daily. The contact time for bleach is 5 minutes.
    • A list of EPA approved disinfectants and contact time can be found on the following website: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2.
  • Cook all foods that require cooking to their required minimum internal cooking temperature. If foods are not eaten immediately after being cooked, then hold hot foods above 135F or chill to below 40F as quickly as possible.
  • 135°F for 15 seconds
    • Cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains
  • 145°F for 15 seconds
    • Raw eggs cooked for immediate service
    • Fish and meat (including game) commercially raised for food
  • 155°F for 15 seconds
    • Mechanically tenderized or injected meats (cubed steak, water added hams, spiral cut ham, injected roasts, etc.)
    • Ground fish, meat, and game commercially raised for food
    • Raw eggs cooked for hot holding
  • 165°F for 15 seconds
  • All poultry
  • Any stuffed fish, meat, pasta, or poultry
  • Any stuffing containing fish, meat, or poultry
  • Keep all refrigerated foods below 40F and frozen foods below 0F.

It is important to take all necessary precautions to contain the spread of COVID-19. Please continue to purchase the food you need and be sure to support your local producers, as many of them have seen a sharp decline in sales due to restaurant closures. If you have questions, please contact your local Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Agent. Their contact information can be found on our website: www.clemson.edu/extension/food.

Resources:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2020. How to protect yourself. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Downloaded from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html. Accessed March 20, 2020.
  2. United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). 2020. Food safety and the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19). United States Food and Drug Administration. Downloaded from: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19. Accessed March 20, 2020.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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