A woman, wearing a face mask, unpacks groceries in her kitchen. Share on Pinterest
Mapodile/Getty Images

The new coronavirus, which is called SARS-CoV-2, is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets. If someone who has the virus talks, coughs, or sneezes, and you inhale these droplets, you can develop COVID-19.

Respiratory droplets that contain the virus can also land on various surfaces. Although it’s less common, the new coronavirus can also be transmitted through contact with a contaminated surface and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes.

Because of this, there’s been some concern about contracting the virus through food or food packaging.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of this happening is actually very low.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what’s known about contracting the coronavirus from food or food packaging, and the steps you can take to keep yourself safe.

Coronaviruses need living host cells in order to thrive. Unlike bacteria or fungi, they cannot multiply in or on food.

It’s still possible for the coronavirus to be present on food. Indeed, some research that’s currently in pre-print has found that the virus can survive on refrigerated or frozen meats for weeks.

However, the CDC notes that there’s currently no evidence to support that the spread of COVID-19 is associated with food.

Additionally, taking appropriate food safety measures can help ensure that you don’t get sick from food.

Proper food safety not only reduces the risk of contracting the virus, but it also prevents exposure to germs that can cause foodborne illnesses, such as salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.

Let’s explore some food safety tips that can help prevent you contracting the coronavirus — as well as other harmful germs — from the food you eat.

Wash your hands

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water both before and after handling food.

It’s particularly important to wash your hands after handling raw food items like meat, poultry, and seafood.

Cook food to the right temperature

Many foods have a safe minimum cooking temperature. This is the internal temperature that a food needs to be cooked to in order to kill potentially harmful germs like bacteria.

The safe minimum cooking temperature can vary by food type. Some examples of a safe minimum cooking temperature include:

  • Poultry: 165°F
  • Ground beef, pork, lamb, veal: 160°F
  • Fresh beef, pork, lamb, veal: 145°F
  • Fish: 145°F or until flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork

Be sure to know the minimum cooking temperature for your food prior to cooking it. You can measure a food’s internal temperature by using a food thermometer.

Rinse fresh produce

Because germs can be found on the surface of fresh produce, it’s important to rinse these items thoroughly before eating them.

To do this, gently rub the surface of the produce while it’s under cold running water. For firm produce like potatoes or apples, you can use a clean brush with no soap to help you gently scrub the surface.

Avoid using soap, bleach, or disinfectants to clean fresh produce. These can be harmful to you if you ingest them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been no cases of COVID-19 that have been associated with food packaging or shopping bags.

However, it’s possible that the new coronavirus can survive on these surfaces.

In fact, studies have been performed on how long the new coronavirus can survive on several different surfaces. Some of these include common food packaging materials, such as:

  • Plastic. The virus can survive between 3 and 7 days on plastic.
  • Cardboard. The virus can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard.
  • Glass. The virus can survive up to 4 days on glass.
  • Cloth. The virus can survive up to 2 days on cloth.

It’s important to remember that these studies were done in standardized laboratory conditions. If the virus is present on food packaging, it’s likely to be in small amounts and will also be sensitive to conditions like temperature and humidity.

Overall, the new coronavirus doesn’t survive well outside of the human body. Because of this, wiping down your groceries isn’t typically necessary.

Follow these tips to stay as safe as possible while handling food packaging:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after getting back from the grocery store, after putting away your groceries, or after removing food from its packaging.
  • Avoid using bleach, ammonia, or other disinfectants to clean food packaging.
  • Discard any unneeded food packaging or shopping bags promptly into the appropriate recycling or waste bin.
  • Wash soiled cloth shopping bags with your normal laundry.

Aside from food and food packaging, you may be concerned about restaurant food. This can include food that you eat while dining in person or you’ve ordered through takeout and delivery services.

During the pandemic, restaurants have taken steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 through food preparation by putting certain safety measures in place, such as:

  • conducting employee health screenings
  • having employees wear masks and gloves
  • requiring more frequent cleaning and disinfection

While it’s not impossible to be exposed to the new coronavirus from food that’s been cooked or handled by another individual, it’s still unlikely.

Nevertheless, it remains important to be safe when ordering food.

Let’s look at how to do this.

Dining in restaurants

Even though restaurants have implemented many safety measures, it doesn’t mean that going out to eat is risk-free.

In fact, a CDC study found that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have recently visited a restaurant.

So how can you protect yourself if you do choose to dine out?

Follow the pointers below:

  • Scope it out first. Check to see if the restaurant is following appropriate safety protocols. If you don’t feel comfortable, take a pass on eating there for the time being. Some good safety protocols include:
    • limited dining capacity
    • tables that are spaced at least 6 feet apart
    • availability of outdoor seating
    • staff who are all wearing face masks
    • customers who are wearing masks when they’re not seated
    • the use of disposable menus
    • readily available hand sanitizer
  • Sit outside. Choose outdoor seating, if available, to help lower your risk for exposure to the new coronavirus.
  • Go prepared. Remember to bring your mask and hand sanitizer with you.
Healthline

Ordering takeout or delivery

There are also steps you can take to stay safe when ordering takeout and delivery. Here’s a look at what you can do.

  • Go contactless. Some restaurants have contactless options for payment, pick-up, or delivery.
  • Consider pick-up. Picking up the food yourself can help limit the number of people who come into contact with your order.
  • Ditch the packaging. When you receive your order, transfer the food to a clean plate or tray and dispose of the packaging that it came in.
  • Use your own kitchenware. Use your own plates, utensils, and napkins instead of those provided with your order.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands both after handling the food packaging and before eating.
Healthline

It’s not known how long the new coronavirus can survive in water. A 2008 study on another human coronavirus found that virus levels decreased by 99.9 percent after 10 days in room-temperature-filtered tap water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), tap water is safe. You can continue to use it as you always have for drinking, washing, and cooking.

Prior to reaching you, tap water is treated at a water treatment plant. This treatment uses filters, disinfectants, and UV light to get rid of potentially harmful germs, including the new coronavirus.

However, the virus has been detected in other types of water, including non-potable water, wastewater, and river water. Because of this, it’s important to use caution around these types of water sources.

In addition to the food safety measures we’ve discussed, the following tips can help keep the coronavirus out of your home:

  • Wash your hands. It’s important to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after being out in public, or after putting away groceries. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Disinfect high-touch surfaces. Try to regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your home. The EPA provides a list of disinfectants that can kill the new coronavirus. Some examples of high-touch surfaces are:
    • light switches
    • doorknobs
    • appliance handles
    • countertops, tabletops, and desks
    • toilets
    • faucet handles
    • remotes for electronics
    • tablets, phones, and keyboards
    • video game controllers
  • Use gloves when cleaning. Try to wear a pair of disposable gloves when cleaning your home or handling potentially contaminated laundry. Always wash your hands after removing your gloves.
  • Wear a face mask. Always wear a face mask when you’re out in public or spending time with those outside of your household. A mask should cover both your nose and mouth and include at least two to three layers of fabric.
  • Practice physical distancing. Stay at least 6 feet away from people outside of your household. Try to avoid locations that are crowded or have poor ventilation.

The risk of getting the new coronavirus from surfaces including food or food packaging is very low. While the virus can be present on these items, taking preventive steps can help greatly reduce your risk for exposure.

These preventive steps include washing your hands after handling food or its packaging, and cooking foods to the appropriate temperature. When ordering from a restaurant, focus on locations that are taking preventive steps, such as using contactless services.

While tap water is safe to drink, it’s best to use caution with other water sources, like wastewater and river water, as the virus has been detected in these sources.