Covid-19 Risk of infection through food – retailers, at home
3.1. Can I get infected through the handling of food by people who may be infected?
According to food safety agencies in the EU Member States, it is very unlikely that you can catch COVID-19 from handling food. The European Food Safety Authority stated in addition that there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus.
No information is currently available on whether the virus responsible for COVID-19 can be present on food, survive there and infect people. At the same time, there is no evidence to date that food has been a source or vehicle of infection while there is no doubt that people currently ill have been infected by contact with other infected people.
Theoretically, as is the case for any contact surface contaminated by an infected person, be it a door handle or another surface, food could also lead to indirect contamination through touching it. This is why everybody should follow the recommendations of public health authorities on the washing of hands.
Retailers are aware of hygiene requirements when handling food. Staff who needs to manipulate food (for example cutting meat, slicing meat or dairy products, cleaning fish, packaging fruit and vegetables) wears gloves and frequently replaces them, or otherwise frequently washes his/her hands.
Consumers should also play their role. As a general good hygiene practice, customers in shops should not handle food other than what they intend to purchase, so as to avoid contaminating it with any pathogen that may be present on their hands.
3.2. As a retailer, how can I protect myself and my clients from getting infected by other people when visiting my shop?
Make sure hygiene and cleaning routines are up to date and ensure strict compliance, including clear communication on customer hygiene behaviour rules. Retailers are also recommended to manage the entrance of external suppliers of products and services (cleaning, etc).
As the virus responsible for COVID-19 is mainly resistant on smooth inert surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel, retailers are recommended to clean these surfaces frequently: for example shopping carts or self-scans. Regular disinfection of the supermarkets hand baskets should take place.
Retailers may invite also customers to bring their own shopping bags.
As requested by many authorities, ensure a safe physical distance between people as advised by public health authorities, for example by marking the floor at certain intervals and limit the number of people present in your shop at the same time. Retailers can also recommend consumers to use shopping carts to maintain that distance.
Food tastings for promotional campaigns should be avoided.
Where supplies allow, retailers can consider making available a hand disinfectant or disinfectant wipes at the entrance and/or even distribute single use gloves6 when people need to touch unpacked foodstuffs in shops (such as fruits or vegetables). When retailers do provide sanitation measures, they must insist that customers make use of them, and in the case of single use gloves, that they are appropriately disposed of.
If used correctly, gloves also contribute to protecting your fruits and vegetables from contamination by customers’ handling. In some Member States the use of disposable gloves in the fruits and vegetable areas in the supermarket is in place since long-time and is supported by the customers.
If face-to-face service is needed and where it is not possible to maintain a safe distance among people, putting a glass or plexiglass screen between cashiers and customers (e.g. at checkout counters) is recommended as is encouraging the use of debit/credit card payments, preferably contactless, instead of cash. Periodical sanitisation of the card payment tool as well as the conveyor belt in the cashier is also recommended.
4.1. Can I get infected by the consumption of certain food?
According to food safety agencies in the EU Member States, it is very unlikely that you can catch COVID-19 from handling food. The European Food Safety Authority stated in addition that there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the COVID-19 virus7.
No information is currently available on whether the virus responsible for COVID-19 can be present on food, survive there and infect people. However, despite the large scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been no report of transmission of the COVID-19 via consumption of food to date. Therefore there is no evidence that food poses a risk to public health in relation to COVID-19.
The main mode of transmission for COVID-19 is considered to be from person to person, mainly via respiratory droplets that infected people sneeze, cough, or exhale.
4.2. Can I do something myself at home to minimise any potential risk from food conveying the virus responsible for COVID-19?
Yes. First, washing thoroughly your hands (See ECDC tutorial on Effective Hand-Washing 8) with soap and warm water before and after shopping is particularly important as it will protect yourself as well as others.
It is equally important to apply strictly the hygiene rules in your kitchen, that usually protect you from food poisoning.
Store your food properly (any contact between the food consumed raw and cooked food must be avoided), discard outer packaging before storage (for example cardboard outers where there is an inner plastic package) while keeping track of key information such as maximum duration limits.
Systematically wash fruits and vegetables with clean water, especially if they are not going to be cooked (COVID-19 will not survive cooking).
Avoid contamination by kitchenware (knifes, plates, etc.) by carefully washing them with detergent in between using them for different food ingredients. Respect cooking instructions (time, temperature) for food intended to be eaten cooked.
Wash your hands with warm water and soap before you start preparing or cooking food, as well as after having prepared food.
Fridge and kitchen surfaces should be cleaned routinely, though with increased frequency.
The precautions against COVID-19 should not make you forget the classic rules to avoid food poisoning when you cook at home that still apply and which protect you from foodborne illnesses that would further burden the healthcare facilities.
4.3. What about the food for my pet? What is the risk of COVID-19 infection of my pet from pet food?
As for human food, there has been no report of transmission of COVID-19 to animals via consumption of pet food (see 1.1 above).
This assessment is also valid for feed for farmed animals. As for food for human consumption, it is very unlikely that you can catch COVID-19 from handling pet food.
The recommendations regarding the handling of pet food packages are the same as for the handling of any other package (see 1.3 above).
DIRECTORATE-GENERAL FOR HEALTH AND FOOD SAFETY
Crisis management in food, animals and plants Food hygiene COVID-19 and food safety
photos EU Brussels and MaP