Is COVID-19 a Food Safety Issue?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a lot of misinformation about how to keep safe when purchasing and eating food. Everyone needs and wants to be safe, but it is important to follow the guidelines from the CDC, USDA and other similar organizations and not random social media posts. At this time the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and USDA are not aware of any reports of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices by washing hands and surfaces often, separating raw meat from other foods, cooking food to the right temperature, and refrigerating foods promptly when handling or preparing foods. Current evidence shows the biggest risk of transmission of COVID-19 is being around individuals who have symptoms and to a lesser extent, those infected but not showing symptoms.

Grocery stores are working to minimize the risk at their stores. Many stores are following CDC guidelines on cleaning and disinfection. Some are limiting hours to allow for additional cleaning and disinfection. Stores may also be providing hand sanitizer and/or disinfecting wipes for carts or baskets and may ask sick employees or customers to leave.

Consider these steps when grocery shopping to minimize risk at the grocery store. Use hand sanitizer when entering stores, and wash hands and/or use sanitizer after leaving. Use disinfecting wipes on all parts of your shopping cart or basket and on the card readers. Maintain social distancing as much as possible while shopping. Avoid touching surfaces or items unnecessarily and avoid touching your mouth, nose or face. Do not go shopping when showing symptoms or think you have been exposed to the virus. Avoid touching multiple produce items when making produce selections.

After getting home with your groceries bring them inside right away, don’t leave them sitting outside, in your car or garage. There is no indication that food or food packaging material has served in significant connection to virus transmission. Do wash your hands after handling food packaging. Washing produce before eating is always a good idea. It is NOT recommended to wash produce with dish soap or any detergent or to treat produce with any kind of chemical disinfectants including bleach. Dish soap, detergents, bleach and other chemical disinfectants are not made for using on food and could make a person sick.

If you are shopping for someone else, the best practice is to drop off groceries while maintaining social distance. If you must enter a home to care for someone, wash hands immediately upon arrival, while unpacking groceries and other supplies and before providing direct care.

Delivery or pre-ordering groceries is a great risk management decision, especially for vulnerable individuals. Delivery helps limit the number of people in the store, helps with social distancing, as well as the number of people touching surfaces. It also prevents the shopper from inadvertently exposing others.

Follow these four simple tips for a safe grocery shopping experience. 1. Use hand sanitizer and cart wipes. 2. Shop alone and go with a plan. 3 Maintain social distance. 4. Only touch what you will buy.

For more information, contact your local Nebraska Extension Office or on the web at: https://foodsafety.ces.ncsu.edu/covid-19-resources Nebraska Extension In Our Grit, Our Glory.