Food Safety & COVID-19: Do we need to worry about food packaging?

Stories in the news have prompted consumers to ask questions about the survival of the coronavirus on food packaging surfacesLaboratory studies have shown that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for up to several days and China recently banned food imports from several counties after finding viral RNA on food packaging.

Is this cause for concern? Even as we continue to learn more about the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the primarily spread is from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. While it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching the inside of the mouth or nose, or possibly their eyes, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads and there is no current evidence that transfer transmission does occur. The presence of viral RNA on a food packaging surface is not the same as finding infectious virus particles on the surface; the viral RNA is not infectious unless it is contained within the original envelope.

Scientists do tell us that research results suggest that the coronavirus is considered to have poor survivability on surfaces. This is good news for food safety as it indicates there is very low risk of spread from surfaces, especially food packages that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.

What is our best response?  According to the CDC physical distancing remains the most important way in which we can help stop the spread of COVID-19. The second most important step is to frequently wash our hands, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds!  In the unlikely event that you do come in contact with viable coronavirus particles on a surface, washing your hands will destroy the virus before you can transfer particles into your mouth or nose. Another practical every-day food safety response is to keep surfaces clean, including kitchens and bathrooms.