Can we catch Covid-19 from food?

  • Wellness
  • Tuesday, 18 Aug 2020

Covid-19 is a not a food-borne virus, and is thus unlikely to infect us through eating food that has been handled by someone who has the infection. — Filepic

"I live in Monterey, California. I’m 77 and my husband is 82.

“I’m wondering, with the large number of Covid-positive farm workers in our area, how safe is it for us to be eating local produce such as romaine lettuce, which could have been picked by an infected ag(riculture) worker?

“Also, how safe is pork and chicken?

“Thank you for your help, Barbara. I haven’t seen articles in our papers about this concern." – Meredith

Dear Meredith,

I attended a webinar on this topic recently.

It was sponsored by the Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit organisation that represents fruit and vegetable farmers (in the United States).

One speaker was Dr Lee-Ann Jaykus, a food virologist (she studies viruses in food) at North Carolina State University.

She told us “the virus” that causes Covid-19 is not a food-borne virus.

It is mainly spread through the air by close contact with other people.

For instance, she said a person can get enough of this virus to become sick after speaking for just five minutes with an infected person.

We can also be infected by touching objects that a person with the virus has touched, including plastic and stainless steel.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is currently no credible evidence that Covid-19 is transported to us from food or food packaging.

That does not mean that we can forget general food safety recommendations, however.

From farm to fork and every contact with our food in between, we all have an obligation to wash our hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before handling or eating food.

And we especially must wash our hands after coughing, sneezing, blowing our nose or going to the bathroom.

We also heard from Kay and Chris Filice, whose family farm grows organic and conventional lettuce, spinach and other crops in San Benito County, California.

They reminded us that farmers and their employees are a big part of our essential workforce to keep the supply of healthful foods coming to us.

This pandemic has caused them to expand their food safety measures many steps farther.

Field workers must wear masks and practice physical distancing, even in the fields, they explained.

More facilities have been provided for workers to wash and disinfect their hands.

And sick pay is provided for those who don’t feel well and need to stay home.

One last thing: Dr Jaykus reminded us that cooking a food for four minutes at 63°C can inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.

Pasteurised milk or how you usually cook pork and chicken all meet this criteria.

Stay well. – By Barbara Quinn/The Monterey County Herald/Tribune News Service

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the US.

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