This article is a bit longer than usual as we are covering important matters.
Disclaimer: this information is current as of its posting date, though new information could emerge as we learn more about this new virus each day.
Experience with previous coronaviruses like SARS, suggest that food is unlikely to pass on COVID-19 to humans, and there is no evidence of this happening to date with the current virus (CDC, 2019). Additionally, according to a WHO report, unlike bacteria, human viruses cannot reproduce in food. They require a host (animal or human) to reproduce. The virus is also known to breakdown faster on organic surfaces like cardboard and food. With food being a ubiquitous part of our lives, if there were a link between food and virus transmission, it would have likely been detected by the same monitoring process used by the CFIA and FDA to identify foodborne illness outbreaks.
Buying Prepared Meals - from restaurants or delivery apps
If the individual preparing my meal has COVID-19 will I get it when I eat the meal?
If a food worker coughs on your meal before packing and sealing it for delivery and you consume the meal shortly after, it is highly unlikely that you will be infected with the virus. It is believed that since this is a respiratory virus, it will not reproduce along the digestive tract which is the route that food takes after swallowing. This does not mean that this type of transmission is impossible, and further research is being done on digestive symptoms from COVID-19, though it is uncertain whether these symptoms develop due to the presence of the virus in the digestive tract, or as a response to the virus in the respiratory tract. Either way, your energy is better spent focusing on hand hygiene and social distancing which are known to reduce the risk of transmission.
Can the virus be spread through the food packaging my meal comes in?
While there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 has spread through food packaging, if a delivery person or package handler infected with the virus releases droplets onto food packaging via coughing, sneezing, etc., the virus can stay on package surfaces and be transferred to the consumer once they touch the product. You may want to consider:
- Sanitizing your takeout containers once they arrive and washing your hands after touching bags.
- Re-plating the food from the containers they arrive in to clean dishes from your home, and immediately disposing of packaging.
- Choosing a contactless delivery option, where food is left at your front door
How long does COVID-19 live on surfaces?
The virus can live on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic take-out containers or steel work surfaces for up to 3 days (NIH, 2019). The virus remains more stable (active) on non-porous surfaces. The number of virus particles will decrease with time, with the most rapid reduction occurring at the start and then slowing as it goes down to zero. However, it is unknown exactly how many particles are required for infection. Additionally, just because the virus is detectable on a surface, doesn’t mean it has the ability to infect a host. According to Dr Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunology at Yale University, the virus must have all its components to be intact and able to cause infection.
Is it unsafe to buy prepared meals at this time? Am I better off preparing food at home?
Not necessarily. The risks above can still apply if you are purchasing your own ingredients and preparing food at home. Additionally, any restaurant or retailer that manufactures food must meet food safety standards governed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that establish best practices for protecting you and your food. With or without COVID-19, these practices are far superior than those used by most individuals in their household, and can minimize foodborne illnesses in general. Read on for information about preparing food at home.
Is it safe to visit the grocery store to buy food?
Now that we know packaging can hold virus particles for a certain period of time, what’s the difference between buying groceries yourself versus ordering them? The main risk factor of going to the grocery store is proximity to other humans. This increases the chances of picking up the virus and bringing it home with you.
Another risk associated with buying groceries in-store is the shared handling of food and food in packages. Since we know COVID-19 can survive on surfaces, this is not the time to be cupping avocados for ripeness as you could transfer the virus to products if you are unknowingly infected, or pick it up from others. This doesn’t mean visits to the grocery store are out of the question, although the frequency of trips should be reduced. Treat any goods coming into your home (food or not) as if they might be contaminated and take necessary precautions, including washing your hands after touching grocery bags, transferring foods to clean containers when possible, and sanitizing packages.
The same procedures should be used if you forgo visits to the grocery store and buy online or do a grocery pickup. These companies can deliver everything you need in a matter of hours depending on where you are located, and most also have the option of grocery pickup, so your exposure to other humans is reduced. Regardless of where and how you decide to shop, please do not panic buy or hoard food and household items. Instead, plan ahead, write a list of what you need, and leave supplies for others. Remember, we’re in this together!
Preparing Food Safely
If I am preparing my own food at home, what can I do to keep my family and I safe?
Keep in mind that food safety practices were created to prevent the transmission of pathogenic or harmful microorganisms (bacteria, viruses (like COVID-19), parasites, protozoa and fungi) from human and food sources and prevent foodborne illnesses in humans. This means safe food handling procedures should be used at all times, not only during a pandemic. Basic food safety principles include:
- Washing your hands before and after working with food
- Cleaning food preparation surfaces, dishes, and utensils with hot water and soap
- Storing your ingredients under ideal conditions and temperatures
Since there is a chance that the raw ingredients you are using may have been unknowingly handled by somebody with COVID-19, make sure you thoroughly wash your fresh produce, especially ones with edible skins such as apples, stone fruit, tomatoes, etc. Don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards. Learn more about guidelines for safe food preparation here.
Can COVID-19 be cooked out of food?
Safe cooking temperatures for various foods were established and are to be followed to ensure the majority of bacteria and viruses can be reduced to safe levels in food. The precise formula of temperature and time for COVID-19 has not been determined, however, for the SARS coronavirus, scientists suggested that exposing food to a temperature of 149℉ or 65℃ was sufficient to significantly reduce the number of virus particles. Now, this doesn’t mean that every food should only be cooked to 149℉ or 65℃, as many foods have a higher safe cooking temperature. Utilize the cooking temperatures outlined in this table, and remember that these temperatures should always be used, in or out of a pandemic scenario.
How KitchenMate is protecting its customers
Although most of KitchenMate’s customers are practicing social distancing by working from home, we continue to feed essential workplaces and services. Our Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) licensed facility is producing meals for these individuals and is taking extra precautions with staff and other partners in food safety and sanitation including but not limited to:
- Frequency of routine sanitation
- Social distancing of production staff in the facility
- Updates to sick policies for employees
- Additional health and safety training for all employees
- Screening of travel history and symptoms