Transmission of COVID-19 through food and food packaging
Over the past six months considerable scientific data has been published on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, its mode of transmission, and the use of control strategies such as wearing masks.
Not surprisingly, there are conflicting findings and difficulties in interpreting what the results mean. This reflects the complexity of doing and reporting science. Plus, some of the studies have been poorly designed and have generated dubious results.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks the role of food and food packaging in transmission of the virus has again been raised. Below we set out what is known.
Is food a vehicle for the virus?
Public health authorities continue to reaffirm that the risk from food is very low. This advice has remained in place during the entire period of the pandemic.
World Health Organization
States that it is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging. See guidance.
Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO emergencies programme told a briefing in Geneva on 13 August 2020 – “People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food. There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe.”
United States Food and Drug Administration
There is no evidence of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, a respiratory virus, through food or food packaging, and the FDA does not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19. See advice.
United Kingdom Food Standards Agency
A risk assessment by the Agency found that the probability that UK consumers will receive potentially infectious exposures to SARS-CoV-2 via the consumption of food or the handling of food contact materials or packaging is overall very low. See their risk assessment here.
How is the virus transmitted?
Authorities continue to report that the disease spreads between people through direct, indirect (contaminated objects or surfaces), or close contact with infected people via mouth and nose secretions. Hence airborne precautions such as the use of masks is essential as fresh aerosols may contain viable virus.
While transmission of COVID-19 via surfaces is plausible, it is highly unlikely.
Survival on surfaces
While some preliminary studies suggest the virus may survive on inanimate surfaces for periods up to six days, these studies do not replicate real-life situations. Importantly the concentrations of virus used were considerably higher than those in droplets in real-life situations.
Transmission via inanimate surfaces is very small, and only where an infected person coughs or sneezes on the surface, and another person touches that surface soon after the cough or sneeze.
The transmission of the COVID-19 virus via food or food packaging represents a very low risk for food handlers, the public, and consumers.
Virus transmission by food is highly unlikely
Virus transmission via food packaging is highly unlikely
Goldman, E. (2020). Exaggerated risk of transmission of COVID-19 by fomites. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. doi:10.1016/s1473-3099(20)30561-2
Kampf et al. (2020). Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents. Journal of Hospital Infection. doi:10.1016/j.jhin.2020.01.022
Public Health Ontario (2020) COVID-19 Routes of Transmission – What We Know So Far. https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/ncov/wwksf-routes-transmission-mar-06-2020.pdf?la=en
van Doremalen et al. (2020). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Engl J Med, 382:1564-1567. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2004973