Does COVID-19 Live on My Groceries?

By Anthony Obinna, RN, BSMT (ASCP), MBA HCA, CIC, Director of Infection Prevention and Control, DHR Health

Information on how the Coronavirus (COVID-19) can spread is generally based on what is known about similar strains of coronavirus from the past. Some of the available evidence surrounding COVID-19 is that the virus is mainly spread from one person to another. The cross contamination usually occurs between individuals who are in close contact with each other (approximately within 6 feet) and also from respiratory droplets that are produced when a person who is infected with the virus coughs, sneezes, cries, shouts or sings.

Although there are other strains of coronavirus, some questions have been raised relating to the widespread of infectivity of SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19). Researchers have suggested that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 might be spreading the virus without knowing it or being symptomatic.  This has made the virus control measures that were effective against previous coronavirus strain such as SARS-CoV-1 less effective against COVID-19.

Right from the early stage of this coronavirus pandemic, healthcare providers all over the world have promoted a universal preventive strategy, including:

  • Practicing good hand hygiene by washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or alcohol sanitizer
  • Covering a cough
  • Consistently practicing social distancing.

It has been suggested that because of the unknowns and the increased mortality rate of this particular novel virus, people have started contemplating about the safety of the items we buy from the general food market (groceries) and to some extent, the safety of the takeout orders from restaurants and the longevity of the virus on different surfaces. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds for general food safety. Also, I suggest that throughout the day, use a tissue to cover your cough or sneezing, wash your hands after blowing your nose or after using the bathroom.  Performing hand hygiene after touching anything outside and before you eat is your best armor in a pandemic

There is not enough scientific evidence to support the claim that coronavirus load on surface is enough to infect a human being.  However, in some laboratory settings, the virus has been found to survive on cardboard, plastics or metal for several hours. Nevertheless, most of the laboratory findings does not generally replicate exactly the same results in a real-life situation due to consideration of some intrinsic or extrinsic factors or variables of laboratory environment vs. the outside environment, such as humidity and heat. In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.

It is recommended by the CDC that community members should practice routine cleaning and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.  If surfaces are dirty, clean them using detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. I will recommend that people should continue to follow routine food safety protocols and best practices. This includes the practice of clean, separate, cook and chill.

Wash, rinse and sanitize food contact surfaces, dishware, utensils, food preparation surfaces, and beverage equipment after use. Hot foods are cooled rapidly for later use – check temperatures of foods being cooled in refrigerators or by rapid cooling techniques such as ice baths and cooling wands. Verify that your dishwashers are operating at the required wash and rinse temperatures and with the appropriate detergents and sanitizers. For workers working in restaurants or food takeout stations, it is recommended that they observe established food safety practices for time/temp control, preventing cross contamination, cleaning hands, no sick workers, and appropriate storage of food.

If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty. Establish designated pick-up zones for customers to help maintain social distancing.

Practice social distancing when delivering food, e.g., offering “no touch” deliveries and sending text alerts or calling when deliveries have arrived. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold by storing in appropriate transport vessels. Routinely clean and sanitize coolers and insulated bags used to deliver foods to disinfect, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work.

Reference

Center for Disease control (CDC) 2020. How to Protect Yourself and Others. Retrieved from https://

www. cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html on April 14, 2020.

Van Doremalen, N et al. Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-.

The New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973 (2020).