Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Currently, there is no evidence that the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted by food. The virus is transmitted primarily by people who are infected through coughing and sneezing droplets which are then picked up by another person.

(More info for Qs1-4 here)

Coronavirus cannot grow on food. While bacteria under the right conditions can grow on food, a virus such as the one that causes COVID-19, requires a living host in order to multiply. Though the virus can survive on objects and surfaces, it is not known how long it can survive on food and what amount of contamination would make a person sick.   

Foodborne transmission of viruses requires that a person consume enough infectious virus to result in infection. There is currently not enough data to say how much SARS-CoV-2 is required to result in infection. Moreover, the contamination of foods and food packaging has, to date, been an extremely rare event. Current evidence does not support food or food packaging as a route of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to humans.

The best way to avoid COVID-19 is through good hygiene habits. Always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and dry thoroughly with a clean towel - after shopping, before handling food and during preparation, before eating and after using the bathroom.  All equipment and surfaces used for food preparation should be washed and sanitized.

(Follow the WHO 5 keys to safer food)

It is important to follow the measures put in place locally at the market or supermarket and maintain physical distance from other people when selecting food items and in line. Keep hands clean and do not shop if you have any symptoms.

Handling food packaging is an unlikely cause of COVID-19. Under experimental conditions, the virus can survive on a variety of surfaces such as plastic or cardboard used in packaging, but it is unlikely that this type of exposure would be sufficient to make a person sick. Always wash your hands after unpacking food. Additional precautions include wiping down and disinfecting surfaces. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth when handling food and food packages and wash reusable shopping bags regularly.

Continue to follow national food safety regulations as well as COVID-19-related measures to protect food as well as staff. Food businesses and their operators must reinforce good hygienic practices and standard operating procedures. Strict personnel hygiene is crucial.

(Read more - COVID-19: Guidance for preventing transmission of COVID-19 within food businesses here)

Keeping all workers in the food production and supply chains healthy and safe is critical to avoid food shortages.  In order to balance this with the need to maintain the safety and integrity of the food supply chain and support international trade, food safety regulators need to prioritize critically important services during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  To facilitate this, FAO and WHO have developed guidance for food safety authorities, and FAO has provided policy guidance for various aspects of food safety and food security measures in the light of the pandemic. To ensure and maintain access to safe food, it is key to reinforce the implementation of the existing international standards developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, in particular on food hygiene and food Import and Export Inspection and Certification.

(More info here - Guidance for food safety authorities)

(More info on risks to food supply chains here)

FAO supports measures that ensure the continuity of supply chains so that people have access to safe and nutritious food during the pandemic. FAO is working closely with WHO to provide targeted guidance to all those in the food chain to support their efforts to maintain the safety of the food supply during this crisis. FAO is providing policy guidance for agricultural and food systems which highlight food safety as one of the important aspects to be considered.

(Read more here)