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Can the Coronavirus Live on the Surface of My Food?

The one piece of good news through all of this? You can still eat whatever you want.

As the masses plunder grocery stores and order delivery in preparation for a prolonged period of isolation, their fears are noticeably apparent, left behind in the untouched aisles and neglected restaurants. Many people are opting for canned foods, ignoring fresh options and refusing to shop from Chinese-American businesses, exposing both a concern of contracting the coronavirus through food and a high level of xenophobia.

From what we know about the coronavirus, though, contracting it through food should be the least of your worries. “I’ll remind everyone that the coronavirus is a respiratory virus,” says William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “There are lots of respiratory viruses — the one that most people are familiar with is influenza — and there’s absolutely no scientific basis to think that food is in any way involved in the transmission of these respiratory viruses.”

In a Food and Drug Administration notice regarding the coronavirus and food handling, over and over again they repeat, “Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 by food. Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”

The notice continues, “We do not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19, as there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packaging.” The letter also emphasizes that food facilities are already required to follow strict cleanliness and sanitation guidelines, and many have been ramping up their cleaning routines since the start of this pandemic.

Nevertheless, as I already reported, the coronavirus is primarily spread through droplets produced by our respiratory tract, and some studies suggest that it can live, at least on hard surfaces, for several days, meaning a food worker could introduce the virus to food by coughing or sneezing on it. But again, most experts agree that contracting the coronavirus in this way would be highly unlikely.

Schaffner still emphasizes the importance of hygiene, though, which includes thoroughly washing your fresh produce. “Obviously, you wash them off,” he says. “The other thing you do, I hope, is a lot of good handwashing or hand hygiene. That’s really the important place that we ought to put the emphasis: Don’t worry about your grapes or carrots — wash them off, and then wash your hands.”

So there you go. Now you have even less of a reason to be a xenophobic asshole who only eats SpaghettiOs.