Among concern for the health of our families and businesses during the coronavirus outbreak is the question of food safety. Alabama Extension food safety and quality professionals offer science-based information and share recommendations on how COVID-19 affects food safety and how manufacturers and retailers should respond to the crisis.
- The FDA reports that there is currently no evidence of transmission of coronavirus by food or food packaging. Most transmissions occur from person to person by respiratory droplets.
- Surfaces contaminated by respiratory droplets from an infected person may pose a risk. This risk can be mitigated by following good hygiene practices including not having sick workers at your establishment. Some people, however, may not have symptoms and still be sick. Therefore, proper cleaning and sanitizing are important. The food industry already has standards for cleaning and sanitizing. These should be monitored to ensure that they are being followed. As Celine Beitchman, Director of Nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education, said in an interview for Today, “In general, places that sell food are hard-wired for sanitation and hygiene.”
- The National Institutes of Health has determined that coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is detectable in aerosols for up to 3 hours, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel. As always, food contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized with products that are labeled for use on those surfaces. Using a product for an off-label application may cause injury or even death and is not recommended.
The Environmental Protection Agency provides a list of products that meet its criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus. Some of these products may be appropriate for food contact surfaces, but read the label closely to make sure.
- Good personal hygiene, including proper handwashing, is a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, along with many other viruses. This is a good time to review proper handwashing procedures with employees.
- Research by the French food agency ANSES indicates that heat treatments of 145 degrees F (63degrees C) can dramatically reduce contamination of a food product.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has temporarily suspended some routine inspection activities and will be investigating alternative ways to evaluate processes while protecting the public and staff. The FDA has also issued interim guidance for facilities that are unable to conduct on-site supplier audits because of travel restrictions.
- Employees should be informed about the coronavirus and how it affects their jobs.
Knowledge of what the virus is and how it is controlled can improve confidence and reduce fears. The United States Department of Agriculture states, “Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses, meaning they are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product and that the same sanitation procedures that should already be in place at food establishments to protect food safety will also help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.”
If you have questions, contact Dani Reams or Christy Mendoza, regional Extension agents in Food Safety and Quality.