Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have questions related to COVID-19?
Find a collection of FAQs related to COVID-19, organized by category below. Please note that information on this page may be outdated and links may no longer function.
FAQs Video Series
The IFS@CU has also created a series of FAQ videos answering some of the questions received the most.
FAQs Archive Document
Some of the FAQs from this page have been archived in an effort to highlight relevant information. Please note that information in this document may be outdated and links may no longer function.
FAQs by Category:
Persistence of COVID-19
Will freezing kill COVID-19?
"They say that freezing the virus doesn't make it go away, as a matter of fact, I've heard that it's how they store the virus'. So if you buy something that others have touched (possibly with the virus) and then put it in your freezer, won't the virus survive and re-contaminate people when it comes out of the freezer?"
It is unlikely that freezing by itself would be effective in inactivating COVID-19, however as detailed by the FDA, there is currently no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. It is extremely unlikely that any food or food packaging would be contaminated with viable virus that causes COVID-19. The time needed to freeze and thaw food and food packaging makes contamination with a viable virus even less likely. It is very important to wash your hands after returning home, before preparing food, and before consuming food.
There are occasional reports in the media about frozen food and food packaging (e.g. ice-cream, fish, and shrimp) testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. These reports lack detailed information about how food and packaging was tested; for example, did they test for traces of genetic material from the virus or presence of viable virus. This makes a large difference since genetic material can remain on the surfaces even after the virus is inactivated. In an unlikely scenario that actual viable virus is present on frozen food there is still a minimal risk of this virus causing infection. There is several reasons for this: (i) if present, the virus is present in low numbers (not sufficient to cause infection), (ii) sufficient numbers of the virus have to reach the receptors in your nose in order to cause infection; this is highly unlikely to happen during eating food, (iii) the virus will not survive transition through the stomach because of high acidity in the stomach. The main path of transmission are still close person-to-person contact with an infected person and respiratory droplets from an infected person. Mitigation strategies like vaccination, social distance of 6 feet, wearing proper face coverings, not touching your face, washing your hands and avoiding large gatherings are still the main strategies that will keep you safe from infection.
Will pasteurization kill COVID-19?
"Will pasteurization kill COVID-19?"
Scientific reports are indicating that standard pasteurization at 63⁰C for 30 min is sufficient to inactivate SARS-CoV-2 and similar viruses (e.g. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV).
Is UV effective against COVID-19?
"Is UV effective against COVID-19?"
Scientific reports are indicating some dosages and wavelengths of UV can be effective against SARS-CoV-2 and similar coronaviruses, however the same studies are reporting that other wavelengths of UV and reduced dosages are completely ineffective. In order for UV to be effective it needs sufficient exposure time and is only effective if the virus is directly exposed to the radiation. This need for direct exposure and poor penetration of UV radiation can result in complete ineffectiveness if contaminants like dust and bodily fluids are present on the surface.
Use of UV in any application cannot be used as a standalone hurdle and cannot be used to replace any of the basic measures required to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including hand-washing, cleaning, chemical sanitizing, pasteurization, exclusion of ill workers from the work environment and social distancing. UV light can represent a potential health and safety risk depending on the wavelength, dose and duration. The risk may increase if the unit is not installed properly or used incorrectly.
As detailed by CDC, conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate COVID-19. UV treatment of municipal drinking water is not necessary to assure absence of COVID-19.
Are aerosols generated by an infected person considered a risk?
"I heard some reports that COVID-19 can be transmitted though air; are aerosols generated by an infected person considered a risk?"
The virus that causes COVID-19 is still relatively new and an unknown virus to us when it comes to understating all of the paths of transmission and how efficient individual paths of transmission are. The part that is also still relatively unknown to us is the infectious dose of this virus; that is how many viral particles you must be exposed to in order to get infected.
What we do know is that the virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets generated by infected people. Large droplets are thought to be the primary risk, as they carry a large number of viral particles. These large droplets are heavy, they tend to drop to the ground relatively quickly and generally travel less than 6 feet; which is why social distancing of 6 feet is recommended for reducing transmission, and also why cloth face coverings are recommend, to capture these larger droplets at the source.
When a person talks, coughs, or sneezes, small droplets that carry a small number of viral particles are also generated; these small droplets can remain in the air for longer and travel further away from the source. Currently, we don’t know how effective these small droplets are in supporting transmission of the virus. Based on information from hospital environments we know that small droplets generated during invasive procedures on COVID-19 patients represent an important risk for the hospital workers. During these invasive medical procedures, a majority of the large droplets (carrying more of the virus) are converted into a number of small droplets that together still carry a large number of viral particles that represent the risk of transmission. Generation of a large number of small droplets is not something we can expect outside of the hospital environment, which is the reason why many experts believe aerosolization is a smaller risk in everyday situations most people will encounter.
Even with the limited knowledge on some of the aspects of transmission we still have relatively complete information on what are the most effective strategies in preventing transmission. We know from countries and cities (i.e. New York City), which were strongly effected by COVID-19, that basic prevention measures like practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings, using hand sanitizer, and regularly washing hands with soap and water are very effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. While other strategies might also be effective in reducing the spread, no scientific data is currently available that would suggest a higher effectiveness than these basic preventive measures or that any of these basic measures can be replaced or eliminated.
While ventilation, filtration, and UV systems may remove small droplets and potentially associated viral particles from the air, it is not clear that they would significantly reduce transmission in everyday settings. It is clear that none of these systems can replace the need for social distancing, face coverings, and regular hand-washing. If you are in close proximity to someone who is shedding the virus, an air handling system will not protect you. It is critical that individuals who are presenting symptoms associated with COVID-19 or are known to have COVID-19, stay home. For the rest of us, it is critical to practice social distancing to reduce our potential exposure to large droplets, and it is important for us to wear cloth face coverings in the event that we are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic so that we do not unknowingly spread virus-containing respiratory droplets to others.
How do I track COVID-19 cases in my area?
"I want to track COVID-19 cases in the areas where my plants are located; how do I do this?"
There are a number of web pages dedicated to tracking the development of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some COVID-19 trackers are focusing on a global scale where you can find information on the number of cases and deaths in individual countries; for example, this COVID-19 tracker from Johns Hopkins. Each of the US States is collecting data on number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and often times number of tests performed in each State. This data is offered and updated daily by at least one COVID-19 tracker in each US State. Most of these trackers are offering sufficient granularity to determine the changes in numbers in individual counties as well as major cities; for example, two separate COVID-19 trackers from the New York State, Department of Health are offering information for both New York State and New York City. Most of the trackers are offering different ways of displaying the information; for example, daily trends vs. total numbers displayed in different table, figure, and map formats. These tools can be very helpful for processors to know and predict the impact on their production by following the numbers in specific communities where their processing plant is located and where employees live; for example, by knowing that an employee with otherwise mild symptoms (i. e. absence of fever) is coming from a community with a recent increase in number of cases, a processor might decide on the side of caution and ask the employee to stay home. Processors should appoint a COVID-19 point person or a team within the organization to track COVID-19 development daily in relevant communities as part of the overall COVID-19 communication and coordination.
Can COVID-19 be transmitted through the food we produce?
"Can COVID-19 be transmitted through the food we produce?"
Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19, according to the FDA, CDC, and European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). The virus that causes COVID-19 does not have a protective protein coat which makes it very unstable outside of the human host. Because of poor survivability of this virus on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging. Unlike the virus that causes COVID-19, all known foodborne viruses (i.e. norovirus, hepatitis A) have a protective protein coat that allows them to survive on food, food packaging, and in the environment for extended periods of time.
Am I protected from infection if I'm only keeping a distance of 6 feet?
"I heard that COVID-19 can travel in the air for 9 to 12 feet when someone coughs or sneezes; how can the CDC say that I am protected from infection if I'm only keeping a distance of 6 feet?"
Water droplets generated when a person coughs or sneezes can be separated into two sizes; large water droplets which are more than 5 microns in size and small water droplets which are less than 5 microns in size.
Large water droplets can travel less than 6 feet from the source before either evaporating or settling down towards the ground, which happens in less than 5 minutes. According to the World Health Organization, 3 feet is already a sufficient distance beyond which the number of large droplets is so small that the quantity of viable virus carried in these droplets is too small to cause an infection. CDC recommends keeping a distance of 6 feet as an extra precaution in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. The distance of 6 feet also gives a person enough time to step away from the person coughing or sneezing which adds another layer of protection.
Small water droplets generated when a person coughs or sneezes do not drop to the ground. The majority of these small water droplets evaporate instantaneously; as comparison, a 50 micron water droplet will evaporate in less than a second at normal air temperature and humidity. COVID-19 virus can only survive inside a host and once it is in the environment the virus is inactivated at a fast rate. Inactivation of the virus is even faster when exposed to dehydration encountered during evaporation of small water droplets. Currently, there is no evidence that COVID-19 infection can be transmitted through air beyond 6 feet in a normal everyday environment. The possibility of airborne transmission was only shown in a hospital environment when invasive procedures are performed directly on COVID-19 patients that generate a lot of aerosols; for example, intubation.
Remember to always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing using a tissue or upper part of the sleeve; dispose of the tissue and afterwards, be sure to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. You should wear a cloth face covering if coughing or sneezing, especially if you're in public places and in situations where social distancing is not possible. You should also self-assess the coughing, sneezing or any other symptoms you might have and if necessary, seek advice from your local health provider.
How long can COVID-19 remain viable on different surfaces?
"How long can COVID-19 remain viable on different surfaces?"
COVID-19 is highly unstable outside of its host and the number of infectious viral particles is reduced at a fast rate as soon as it exits the host. Results of a recent study indicate that the reduction rates of COVID-19 on different surfaces are similar to that of the coronavirus SARS. The observed reduction rates, measured in half-life (time needed to reduce the number of active viral particles by half), were dependent on the type of surface. The longest observed half-life of COVID-19 was on plastic surfaces (7h), followed by stainless steel (5.5h). COVID-19 was much less stable on cardboard (3h) and copper (1h). COVID-19 also had a half-life of 1h when tested in aerosolized water droplets. The contamination of different surfaces with infectious viral particles used in this study was much higher than the contamination we would expect in everyday situations; the use of a high contamination load was necessary to allow the researchers to quantify and measure the half-life of the active COVID-19 viral particles. The expected low levels of surface contamination in everyday situations combined with fast inactivation rate of infectious viral particles results in a relatively short window after contamination in which viable viral particles are present on any surface. In order to prevent infection from touching surfaces within that small window after contamination, it is still critical that people:
- Maintain social distance; you are not just preventing transmission of COVID-19 from person-to-person but also maintaining a distance that will prevent you from touching recently contaminated surfaces around other individuals.
- Maintain proper hand hygiene; ideally washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or if that is not available using the appropriate hand sanitizer. If you touch a contaminated surface this will inactive the virus.
- Not touch their faces. If you have touched a recently contaminated surface, keeping your hand from your mouth, nose, and eyes will help stop potential routes of infection.
It is also critical to maintain proper respiratory hygiene practices and wear a proper face covering when social distancing is not possible in order to reduce the risk of transmission from person-to-person as well as contamination of surfaces,.
Facilities should actively maintain routine, scheduled cleaning and sanitization of both production and non-production areas. Particular focus on high risk areas (restrooms, break rooms, locker rooms, first aid areas, etc) and surfaces (door knobs, hand-rails, telephones, faucets, electronics, etc) that employees regularly come in contact with, warrant cleaning and disinfection on a regular and frequent schedule.
Can COVID-19 virus survive on cardboard packaging?
"Can COVID-19 virus survive on cardboard packaging?"
We know that the virus is highly unstable outside of its host and is inactivated at a fast rate on any surface. A recent study showed that the number of viable virus particles on cardboard are reduced by half every 3 hours. Because of this fast rate of inactivation, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging, especially when these products are shipped over a period of days or weeks. Transmission of COVID-19 occurs mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets and less likely through contaminated surfaces. There are no known cases of transmission through cardboard, and there is no recommendation for specific interventions to address transmission through cardboard. Although cardboard packaging is not recognized as a risk, it is still important to reinforce GMPs like washing your hands often, proper respiratory hygiene, and not touching your face when handling these types of items.
Does the type of food make a difference in increasing or decreasing risk?
"Does the type of food make a difference in increasing or decreasing risk to COVID-19? (Hot/cooked food vs. cold/raw food – like a salad)"
Not really. Fresh fruits, vegetables and leafy greens that will be consumed raw need to be prepared following hygienic conditions to protect from potential cross contamination from other foods that may carry foodborne microorganisms. For example, Salmonella in raw chicken.
Current guidance from USDA recommends rinsing produce (fruits and vegetables) under cold running water to remove any lingering dirt. If there is a firm surface, such as on apples or carrots, the surface can be scrubbed with a brush under running water without using soap. Do not use soap or a bleach solution. Detergents and bleach solutions are approved for surface application and are not meant to be consumed or used on food; washing your fresh produce in these solutions can make you sick.
For cooked foods, we know that the coronavirus is killed by cooking to the safe minimum cooking temperatures specified by FDA and USDA.
Does cooking foods kill the virus that causes COVID-19?
"Does cooking foods kill the virus that causes COVID-19?"
Yes. The coronavirus is killed by cooking to the safe minimum cooking temperatures specified by FDA and USDA.
Why do I still have to wear a mask after being fully vaccinated?
"Why do I still have to wear a face covering and keep my social distance even after being fully vaccinated?"
The answer is because we still don’t know if vaccines can prevent transmission of the virus from vaccinated person to others; the only part we do know is that it can prevent development of COVID-19 symptoms. We know vaccines are very effective at preventing COVID-19; the development of symptoms, need for hospitalization, and the likelihood of a person dying because of COVID-19. For example, the last vaccine that was approved in the US has about 72% effectiveness; this means that for every 100 cases of COVID-19 among people that did not get vaccinated we expect to see only 18 cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated people.
The part we currently don’t know is if vaccinated people that are exposed to the virus have only mild infection without symptoms, in which case they can spread the infection to others, or are they protected from infection all together, in which case they are also not spreading the infection to others. In other words we don’t know if vaccinated people after being exposed to the virus will become asymptomatic carriers of the virus and infect others. The risk of spreading the virus to other people is even greater if these vaccinated people adopt an attitude that they are safe and everyone else around them is safe from the infection.
Some of the new studies are showing promising results and indicating that vaccines are not only effective at preventing development of COVID-19 but also at preventing the transmission of the virus. However, these studies included only a limited number of people and a limited number of different vaccines, not enough to make general statements about the safety of all vaccines in all situations; for example, in different populations, ages, cultures, geographic locations. Because we cannot say with certainty that all vaccines prevent virus transmission in all situations, it is better to keep other control strategies even after we receive the vaccine, including wearing face coverings, keeping social distancing, frequently washing our hands, avoiding touching our face and avoiding public spaces and large gatherings.
As more people get vaccinated, the number of daily cases is further reduced, and we get more scientific data on vaccines, we will be able to gradually loosen the recommendations. The important part to remember is that just because the recommendations are to keep practicing social distancing and wear face coverings even after being fully vaccinated, this does not mean that vaccines are not effective. As we said, the number of people that develop COVID-19 is expected to be reduced by at least 72% with vaccination.
What we want to achieve with vaccination is something called herd or community immunity, where not only vaccinated people are protected from COVID-19 but also people that cannot get vaccinated; for example people with chronic illnesses. Some estimations are that at least 80% of the population would have to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. We can achieve herd immunity much faster with vaccines than without them, and with them we get less deaths, less hospitalizations and we also give this virus less chance to spread, replicate and mutate into a variant that can cause an even bigger problem; for example, causes more severe illness or not be affected by our current vaccines. At the moment we do have vaccines that are effective, we also have other mitigation strategies that are effective and in place; we should use all possible strategies to regain control over this pandemic before we go back to complete normal.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe if there is a risk of allergic reaction?
"Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine if there is a risk of severe allergic reaction to it? I know anaphylactic shock can kill you."
Although newly developed vaccines for COVID-19 can cause an allergic reaction in certain individuals, the chance of this happening is extremely low and usually occurs in people with a history of developing allergic reactions to other vaccines. Current available data on Moderna COVID-19 shows that there was only 10 reported cases of anaphylactic shock among more than 4 million people that received the first dose. In nine of these cases, the onset occurred within 15 minutes of vaccination; the person receiving the vaccine stays under the medical care for at least 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine. No anaphylaxis-related deaths were reported. The benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any risks associated with it; if you have any additional concerns with getting vaccinated consult with your doctor. Vaccination is an important part of the strategy to stop the COVID-19 pandemic; it is highly recommended that people that are able to receive the vaccine decide to do so to protect themselves and others around them.
Cooking & Food Preparation
Should people use vinegar to clean their produce right now?
"Should people use vinegar to clean their produce right now? What is the recommended way to treat/wash fresh produce for at-home consumption?"
No, there is no data to suggest vinegar is effective at removing contamination on produce. There is limited research that shows vinegar to be somewhat effective against different types of bacteria and viruses in laboratory studies using vinegar with higher acetic acid concentrations than those typically available to consumers and requiring extended contact times. It is also important to note that none of this research was looking at removing microbial contamination on produce. Research has shown that removing contamination once the produce is contaminated is very difficult to remove because the surfaces of many produce items are highly variable (e.g., netted, textured). This is why many farmers use Good Agricultural Practices to prevent microbial contamination during the production of fresh fruits and vegetables and why many retailers have sanitation programs in place to prevent cross-contamination at the grocery store.
Current guidance from USDA recommends rinsing produce under cold running water to remove any remaining soil or dirt that may harbor microbial contamination. If the produce has a firm surface, such as on apples or carrots, the surface can be scrubbed with a brush. It is not recommended to use any other substances to wash the produce (e.g., bleach, soap). Ingesting bleach, other sanitizers, or detergents can be dangerous and lead to other health issues. Just rinse with cool running water right before consumption.
Should people use vinegar on food contact surfaces?
"Should people use vinegar to kill bacteria and viruses on food contact surfaces?"
No. Vinegar is not very effective on either viruses or bacteria in settings that consumers are likely to use, so overall is not a good option. There is limited research that shows vinegar to be minimally effective against some types of bacteria and viruses in laboratory studies but they use vinegar with a higher concentration of acetic acid than what is commercially available to consumers, and the contact time necessary to result in effective pathogen reduction is extensive. For instance, one study that looked at the ability of vinegar to kill Mycobacterium tuberculosis required 30 minutes of contact with 6% acetic acid vinegar. Most commercial vinegars are less concentrated at 4-5% acetic acid. Another study found that vinegar was not as effective as other household cleaners when shorter contact times (e.g., 30 seconds to 5 minutes) were used. This study also showed vinegar was only effective on two types of bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O157:H7) and it was not effective against all the microorganisms tested. The take-away message is that vinegar is a poor choice for sanitizing food contact surfaces. The pathogenic microorganisms have different resistance to vinegar, and it will only be effective for very specific pathogens with extended contact times and high acid concentrations.
Is it safe to bake cookies for family and friends this holiday season?
"Is it safe to bake cookies for family, friends and neighbors this holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic?"
Currently, there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food. However, it is important that you use good COVID-19 prevention strategies and food safety practices when you bake and handle holiday cookies for your family, friends and neighbors. First, if you are sick with COVID-19 or any other illness, even if the symptoms are mild, you should not prepare food for others. Though passing COVID-19 through food is highly unlikely, you could spread other microorganisms through food if you are ill. It is most important that you are not ill when preparing food for others. Follow baking instructions (e.g., time, temperature) to ensure your holiday cookies go through a ‘kill step’ when they are baked in the oven. This will ensure the raw dough receives the necessary temperature and length of time required to destroy any potentially harmful microorganisms that may be present. Harmful microorganisms are also the reason why you should not eat raw cookie dough. Handling the baked cookies after they come out of the oven is another step where they are vulnerable to becoming contaminated. It is important to wash your hands and make sure all kitchen utensils and food contact surfaces, such as counter tops and cooling racks, are clean. While the cookies are cooling in your kitchen, make sure they are protected in the open environment from pets and other members of your household who may not have washed their hands.
Should I mist my produce with a diluted bleach solution?
"How should I wash fresh produce? Should I mist my produce with a very diluted bleach solution (a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water) and let it air dry before I eat it to avoid contracting COVID-19?"
Fresh produce should only be washed with cold running water. Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, most likely to be transmitted person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Current guidance from USDA recommends rinsing produce under cold running water to remove any lingering dirt. If there is a firm surface, such as on apples or carrots, the surface can be scrubbed with a brush. NEVER use soap or a bleach solution. Detergents and bleach solutions are not meant to be consumed or used on food, and washing your fresh produce in these solutions can make you sick.
Ingesting bleach, other sanitizers, and detergents can be dangerous and lead to other health issues.
Is extra precaution now warranted while preparing food in the kitchen?
"Beyond basic food hygiene, is extra precaution now warranted while preparing food in the kitchen?"
For both commercial and home kitchens, it is important to reinforce the need for washing hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before handling/preparing food, when handling a different type of food, after finishing food preparation and before consuming food.
Commercial kitchens are required to follow FDA and USDA food safety rules, including the maintenance of clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces. The added precaution is social distancing of at least 6 feet. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted mainly by person-to-person through respiratory droplets. When people are in close contact, defined as less than 6 feet, there is a possibility that respiratory droplets from an infected person can land in the mouths, noses or eyes of nearby people, eventually reaching the lungs where the virus reproduces and produces the lung disease.
For home kitchens, it is also very important to clean and sanitize food preparation surfaces including the kitchen sink. For example, raw meat and poultry carry microbes (such as Salmonella and Campylobacter) that are killed through proper cooking, but utensils and surfaces that were in contact with the raw meat and chicken, if not properly cleaned and sanitized, could transfer contaminants to food that will be eaten raw, such as vegetables and cooked foods, if they are contacted by the utensils or placed on these surfaces.
To clean the surfaces and utensils, wash with warm, soapy water to remove most microbes that can cause illness. Allow utensils and surfaces to air dry or dry the surfaces and utensils clean with single-use or paper towels. If you use kitchen towels, wash them frequently in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
Clean surfaces are now ready to be sanitized, to kill the remaining microbes. For commercially prepared sanitizers, follow the instructions listed in the label. Sanitizing wipes are also a good option. The most common sanitizer is chlorine bleach, diluted for surface sanitizing at the rate of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach (5-6% sodium hypochlorite strength) per gallon of clean water (or 1 teaspoon per quart of clean water). Utensils and cutting boards can be submerged in the diluted bleach solution, while you can apply or spray the sanitizing solution on surfaces. Leave the sanitizing solution on the surface for about 10 min to be effective, then wipe the surfaces clean with a paper towel.
Dishwasher safe utensils and cutting boards can also be cleaned and sanitized in the dishwasher using the sanitizing wash cycle and drying option.
If someone is sick, can they still prepare food for the family?
"If someone is sick with COVID-19, can they still prepare food for the family?"
No. A person sick with COVID-19, even if only showing mild symptoms, must separate from other people and animals in the home. Follow the CDC recommendations:
What are some tips on how to cook meals that keep my family safe?
"Now that I am cooking at home more frequently, what are some tips on how to prepare, cook and serve home meals that keep my family safe from food-borne illness?"
Fight BAC supports consumers with resources to fight food borne illness with English and Spanish recipes, instructions, and step by step guides.
More technical food safety fact sheets addressing specific consumer topics like safe usage of cutting boards, temperature controls, can be found on the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Services.
How do I properly clean and sanitize food preparation areas at home?
"How do I properly clean and sanitize food preparation areas at home to protect my family from microbial contamination including the coronavirus?"
It is very important to clean and sanitize food preparation surfaces including the kitchen sink. For example, raw meat and poultry carry microbes (such as Salmonella and Campylobacter) that are killed through proper cooking, but utensils and surfaces that were in contact with the raw meat and chicken, if not properly cleaned and sanitized, could transfer contaminants to food that will be eaten raw, such as vegetables and cooked foods, if they are contacted by the utensils or placed on these surfaces.
To clean the surfaces and utensils, wash with warm, soapy water to remove most microbes that can cause illness. Allow utensils and surfaces to air dry or dry the surfaces and utensils clean with single-use or paper towels. If you use kitchen towels, wash them frequently in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
Clean surfaces are now ready to be sanitized, to kill the remaining microbes. For commercially prepared sanitizers, follow the instructions listed in the label. Sanitizing wipes are also a good option. The most common sanitizer is chlorine bleach, diluted for surface sanitizing at the rate of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach (5-6% sodium hypochlorite strength) per gallon of clean water (or 1 teaspoon per quart of clean water). Utensils and cutting boards can be submerged in the diluted bleach solution, while you can pour or spray the sanitizing solution on surfaces. Leave the sanitizing solution on the surface for about 10 min to be effective, then wipe the surfaces clean with a paper towel.
Dishwasher safe utensils and cutting boards can also be cleaned and sanitized in the dishwasher using the sanitizing wash cycle and drying option.
I have foods that are past the expiration date, are they safe?
"I have frozen, canned or dried foods at home that are past the 'best by/sell by/expiration date', are they safe to consume?"
Frozen foods are safe to eat because food poisoning microbes do not grow in the freezer. They may be dry or may not taste as good but they will be safe.
Canned and shelf-stable foods (cans and jars) that have been stored in dry, dark, cool pantries/areas will last for years, as long as they show no visible damage (no rust, dents or swelling).
Packaged dried foods (cereal, pasta, cookies, candy, rice, legumes, flour, sugar) are safe past the “best by” date but the quality may decrease over time, developing off-flavors or becoming stale. Proper repacking/closing after opening will extend the shelf-life by protecting the foods from outside moisture and insects.
Should I try to clean and sanitize food packages before I open them?
"Should I be concerned about food packaging being contaminated with coronavirus? Should I try to clean and sanitize food packages before I open them?"
No. Based on the CDC information, coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with any type of food. For general food safety, it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before preparing or eating food. Throughout the day wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom.
In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging; for example, on cardboard the concentration of coronavirus is split by half every three hours. It is not advisable to try to clean and sanitize food packages before opening due to the risk of leaving chemical residues in the food. It is best to wash your hands frequently, especially before and after handling food and after removing packaging materials.
All food preparation and manufacturing establishments are required to follow FDA and USDA food safety rules, including the maintenance of clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces.
Is it safe to buy and consume fresh produce and veggies?
"Is it safe to buy and consume fresh 'open' (non-packaged) produce and veggies? Should I take any specific precautions? I am worried that people infected with COVID-19 have touched the products and that this product can transmit the disease."
The most important advice is to practice social distancing and frequent hand-washing. You are better off buying fresh produce in one store rather than visiting 3 stores to find frozen product. Virtually all food safety experts consider the risk of acquiring COVID-19 through handling fresh produce extremely low. There also is NO evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through consumption of contaminated foods. Hence the main risk that can be managed would be transmission of COVID-19 from a contaminated surface (such as the outside of an apple) to hands and from there to nose and eyes.
Managing this risk can be achieved with a few simple steps, including:
- Washing hands after returning from shopping
- Frequently washing hands during food preparation
- Rinsing the outside of fruits and vegetables with water
- Removing outer surfaces (e.g., outer lettuce leaves) before consumption
For example, for avocados, one should rinse the exterior of the avocado and then cut the skin and flesh to the seed and scoop out the flesh with a clean spoon, trying not to cross contaminate the flesh with the exterior of the avocado.
How should I handle groceries to make sure they’re safe?
"How should I treat packaging? How should I handle other groceries to make sure they’re safe?"
While COVID-19 is not considered foodborne, there are some practices you should use to reduce the already small risk of transmission of COVID-19 through surfaces. When you come home from shopping you should place the shopping bags on the floor and first wash your hands. Afterwards, remove the food from the shopping bags, discard or recycle single use bags or put away reusable bags; there is no need to discard or sanitize any part of food packaging. Wash your hands again after food has been stored away before touching your face or the food. If the shopping bag touched the counter or a surface, clean the surface with a sanitizing wipe or solution.
Should I be using reusable bags?
"Should I be using reusable bags? If I do use reusable bags, how should I keep them safe?"
Reusable bags shouldn’t present additional risks if the reusable bags have been used and cleaned and/or washed properly. If you have raw meat, poultry or seafood in those reusable bags, they should be cleaned with a disinfecting wipe or solution to remove any possible cross contamination. If using canvas or washable bags, wash them in hot water with detergent. Double bagging raw meats, poultry, and seafood, as well as putting them in an insulated bag with an ice pack is the recommended safe handling practice.
Should I buy frozen or canned foods instead of fresh right now?
"Should I buy frozen or canned foods instead of fresh right now?"
No, assuming you are washing your hands before and after handling the food you are preparing, there is no difference in terms of your risk for COVID-19 exposure. Remember to practice safe food handling practices at all times, avoid cross contamination of raw meats, poultry, seafood with ready to eat foods, sanitizing your food contact surfaces, and washing your hands.
What are best practices when it comes to food shopping right now?
"What are best behaviors that people should follow when it comes to food shopping right now? (Frequency, ordering online vs shopping in person, grocery store hygiene, etc.)"
To maintain a continuous supply of food and to reduce the risk of coronavirus contamination, it is recommended that families shop for what is needed for 1-2 weeks, practicing social distancing to minimize contact with people, implementing frequent hand-washing, and avoiding touching their faces (nose, eyes and mouth). It is important to remember that many families may be unable to buy a supply of food for weeks in advance due to economic limitations. Consumer demand has recently been exceptionally high – especially for grocery, household cleaning, and some healthcare products because of COVID-19 anxiety. Food supply and freight flows are not disrupted, but stores need time to restock.
If shopping at a grocery store in person, make sure to wash your hands before shopping (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer), as soon as you return home, and after all the purchased items are put away. It is also prudent to wipe counters and other surfaces where you unpacked your groceries. Many stores offer home delivery or pick up options to limit person-to-person exposure. Online shopping is another safe way to purchase food.
What guidance do you have for delivery drivers and their customers?
"What guidance do you have for delivery drivers to safeguard themselves and their customers? What should customers do to safeguard themselves when the food arrives?"
The best way to prevent the illness is to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus, hence the most important measures are:
- To wash hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, or thoroughly rubbing hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer or sanitizing wipes if it is not possible to wash hands;
- To keep social distancing of at least 6 feet. The driver should sanitize hands before picking up the food to be delivered and after delivering the food. Instead of ringing the bell, it is better to call or text the customer to indicate that the food has been delivered and left at the doorstep.
Based on the CDC information, coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with any type of food. If a person is concerned about the possible surface contamination of the delivered bag, container or package, in the unlikely event that a person carrying the coronavirus has touched those surfaces, then you can minimize the very small risk by:
- Paying (and tipping) in advance (electronically) to avoid the person-to-person interaction.
- Letting the driver leave the food at the doorstep. Wait until the driver is at least 6 feet away before picking up the food.
- Remove the food from the takeout bag/package/container and dispose of or recycle them appropriately. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. It is also prudent to wipe counters and other surfaces where you unpacked the food.
- Wash your hands frequently before handling food, while preparing food, and before serving and consuming food.
How do I know that takeout delivered to my home/office is safe?
"How do I know that commercially prepared food (from grocery stores, restaurants, online ordering) delivered to my home/office is safe?"
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. All food preparation and manufacturing establishments are required to follow FDA and USDA food safety rules, including the maintenance of clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces.
Are face shields equally effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19?
"A food service worker in my local fast-food restaurant is using a face shield instead of a face covering; are face shields equally effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19?"
Face coverings were implemented in the US to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 by pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic people that don’t know they are infectious. The face covering works by blocking respiratory droplets when a person talks, sneezes, or coughs and protects other people from the person wearing the face covering. When it comes to face coverings (i.e. N-95 respirators, medical masks, cloth face coverings including neck gaiters), we have good scientific data (i.e. on materials, designs, fitting to the face) that shows the effectiveness of different face coverings on blocking the respiratory droplets at the source. For example, cloth face coverings including neck gaiters are comparable to medical masks when it comes to blocking respiratory droplets at the source.
A CDC study on N-95 respirators, medical masks, face shields, cloth face coverings and neck gaiters, showed that face shields are only able to block 2% of the droplets at the source while cloth face coverings and double layered neck gaiters were able to block more than half of the generated droplets. Face shields were also shown to not be sufficiently effective at protecting the person from respiratory droplets generated by other people if used by itself. In a hospital environment, face shields are considered an eye or face protective equipment and are recommended to be used in combination with actual respiratory protective equipment.
Our recommendation would be to use cloth face coverings or neck gaiters in any public setting, including food service and food processing. For maximum protection we would recommend using a face covering or neck gaiter in combination with a face shield.
May I require my employees to notify me if they had a positive test?
"May I require my employees to notify me if they had a positive test?"
Normally, employers are prohibited from asking about an employee’s health status based on a series of anti-discrimination laws. However, in a time of pandemic illnesses, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has established a regulatory guidance that allows employers to adopt different policies that would normally not be allowed. This page from EEOC provides a series of short answers and a recorded webinar that provides employers with specific guidance. Employers may adopt a policy requiring employees to notify them about a positive COVID-19 test, and employers may also require employees to have their temperature taken upon entering the workplace. The CDC has also issued guidance about public health measures to protect your essential workforce which you can find here.
Can an employee who lives with a health care worker still come to work?
"Food industry employee lives with a household member who is a health care worker and is treating COVID-19 positive patients; Can the food industry employee still come to work?"
The primary concern here is transferring the virus to other employees at the facility, NOT contaminating the food. It is important to proceed in a manner that maintains the privacy of the employee, the suggested course of action is:
- Confirm the employee and their household have already implemented procedures to minimize risk of transmission at home recommended by CDC, NY DOH, or the health care facility the household member works for.
- You should consider to either monitor or ask the employ to self-monitor for symptoms (cough, fever >100.4 F, shortness of breath). If they begin to show symptoms, they should stay home and seek guidance from their health care provider.
- Ensure the employee is aware to confidentially contact management if their household member begins to present symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive for COVID-19. If the household member tests positive for COVID-19, it is recommended to have the employee stay home and contact their public health provider.
- If you have employees whose household member works in healthcare, you may consider having them work from home.
Should my employees use gloves or wash their hands?
"Should my employees use gloves or wash their hands?"
Employees in food processing facilities should continue to follow good manufacturing practices such as frequent hand-washing and good personal hygiene. If disposable gloves are worn as part of the routine procedures in an individual facility, employees must wash their hands before using the gloves. Gloves must be changed anytime they become contaminated, this includes anytime the gloves touch your face, hair and any filth. Hands should be washed before and after preparing food and gloves should be changed. It is important to recognize that gloves do not prevent cross-contamination and therefore by themselves do not prevent the spread of illness from one employee to another.
When an Employee Tests Positive
What should be done if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?
"What should be done if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?"
If an employee or individual currently working, or recently present, within your facility is confirmed by a laboratory to be positive for COVID-19 or developed typical symptoms, including fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath, send them immediately home. An employee is considered fully recovered and may return to work under the following conditions as defined by CDC Interim Guidance:
- No fever for at least 24 hours without the use of medicine that reduces fevers
- No other symptoms, including cough and shortness of breath
- At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared
If you have an employee that tested positive for COVID-19, you should identify employees who came into close contact with the positive individual during the period of 48 hours before the onset of symptoms and until fully recovered (see above). If possible, have employees who came into close contact with the positive individual stay at home and have them request to be tested for COVID-19.
Close contact is defined by CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community as including:
- Any Household member
- Intimate partner
- Individual providing care in a household without using recommended infection control precautions
- Individual who was directly coughed on
- Individual who spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet or less of the positive individual that did not wear a face mask to block respiratory secretions from contaminating others and the environment.
Contact with a positive individual is considered close contact regardless if face coverings were worn. If employees who came into close contact with the positive individual cannot be sent home, adhere to the following practices prior to and during their work shift:
- Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue face masks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
- Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
Should all employees vacate the facility if one tests positive for COVID-19?
"Should I have all of my employees vacate the processing facility if one of my employees tests positive for COVID-19?"
Current guidelines from the FDA and NYS Department of Health do not include having employees vacate the facility after a COVID-19 positive case in a Food Manufacturing Facility. The only recommendations in this situation are to immediately send employees who test positive for COVID-19 home and perform cleaning and disinfection of all surfaces. The only example where Food Manufacturing Facilities might consider having their employees vacate an area of the processing facility is when a COVID-19 positive employee or an employee with all typical COVID-19 symptoms, including cough, fever and shortness of breath, was working in a room or a small area for prolonged time.
It is unknown how long the air inside a room occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious. Facilities will need to consider factors such as the size of the room and ventilation system design when deciding how long to close off the room or area used by the ill person before beginning the cleaning and disinfection. Taking measures to improve ventilation in an area or room, without opening the outside windows or doors, will help shorten the time it takes respiratory droplets to be removed from the air.
If an employee tests positive do we have to put product on hold?
"If a food manufacturing employee tests positive for COVID-19, do we have to put product on hold?"
No, because there is no evidence that suggests COVID-19 is transmitted through food consumption, according to the FDA, CDC, and European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). The primary goal is to prevent person-to-person transmission. Therefore, if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality. Sick employees should follow the CDC’s ‘What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)’.
What are recommended procedures for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection?
"There are a lot of different recommendations on cleaning, sanitation, and disinfection out there when it comes to COVID-19; what are the recommended procedures for Food Processing Facilities?"
Food processing facilities must follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) and the FSMA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food, which include maintaining clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces. These rules are the base for manufacturing safe food regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food facilities are required to use US EPA-registered “sanitizer” products in their cleaning and sanitizing practices. FDA Food Code defines “sanitizer” as a substance, or mixture of substances, that reduces the bacterial contamination of inert objects or articles, or equipment and utensils, and other cleaned food-contact surfaces by at least 5 log units, which is equal to a 99.999% reduction. Sanitizers for food-contact surfaces or Sanitizing Rinses are formulated in a way to be used without rinsing; the chemical residues on the food-contact surface are below the level that would represent a hazard for the consumer if these residues were to be transferred to food.
By definition sanitizers are only effective against bacteria while disinfectants on the other hand can by definition be active against bacteria, fungi and/or viruses, but typically not against bacterial spores in a food processing setting. Activity against viruses is the reason why FDA and most likely your local health department, i.e. NYS Department of Health requires you to perform disinfecting of specific surfaces after cleaning. This is:
- Before a confirmed case of COVID-19 occurs: Routinely clean high-risk locations (i.e. dining areas, and frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs)
- When a confirmed case of COVID-19 occurs: Clean and disinfect ALL surfaces including food-contact surfaces that the positive individual came into contact with over the last 24 hours of showing symptoms or testing positive.
For any given product registered as a disinfectant, data must be generated and approved by the US EPA for specific organism claims; for example, some disinfectants may only be approved to be used against a subset of bacteria, fungi or viruses. Review the US EPA webpage, product specifications and product labels for details on activity of each disinfectant product. Use List N of EPA-registered disinfectants to find products considered to be effective against COVID-19 based on the emerging viral pathogen program or because they already have claims against similar human coronavirus(es). All products on this list meet EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19, including those marked as “No” under “Emerging Viral Pathogen Claim”. Look for products that can be used in “Institutions” on “Hard nonporous” surfaces.
Disinfectants often contain the same chemistry as sanitizers but at a higher concentration. While this higher concentration of active ingredient in disinfectants can be used in some applications on non-food-contact surface without rinsing, this will not be true for most applications on food-contact surfaces. After disinfection of food-contact surfaces these surfaces need to be properly rinsed with water. Because potable water used for rinsing is not sterile, you must sanitize the food-contact-surfaces before using them for processing food.
Although by definition only disinfectants can be effective against viruses there are also sanitizers that at no-rinse concentration, may be effective against viruses, including viruses that are more stable than COVID-19. The process of registering such products as ‘Sanitizers with virucidal activity’ is currently ongoing at EPA. Currently, in order to perform inactivation of COVID-19 on surfaces, all products need to be used at concentrations and the dwell time on their label to be appropriate for disinfection.
General recommendation would be to use a product that has both food-contact sanitizing claims and disinfectant claims (these will likely be at different active ingredient concentrations). However, it is very important to always consult with your chemical supply company on what products can be used in food processing facilities on food-contact and non-food-contact surfaces against COVID-19. It is also very important to consult with them on how to use these products since the language for disinfecting food-contact surfaces is inconsistent across labels for different products.
In the 2005 FDA Food Code, the use of the term “hand sanitizer” was replaced by the term “hand antiseptic” to eliminate confusion with the term “sanitizer,” a defined term in the FDA Food Code.
Should I modify how HVAC is operated/maintained in my facility?
"Should I modify how HVAC is operated and maintained in my facility to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19?"
The epidemiology of COVID-19 indicates that most infections are spread through close contact, not airborne transmission. According to the CDC, airborne transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 is highly unlikely and can only occur under special circumstances and does not require any special engineering controls. Proper social distancing of 6 feet is sufficient to prevent transfer of infection from person-to-person by physical contact as well as airborne droplets. A functional HVAC system already in place as part of your GMPs is additionally reducing the risk of transmission through airborne droplets. There is no need to modify any part of your HVAC system including any change to the frequency of replacing the filters and other preventative maintenance. Verify proper SOPs for maintaining the HVAC system are in place and followed. This is also a good time to make sure all of your basic prevention strategies are in place including establishing a system of verifying compliance with these strategies.
Is washing dishes/utensils used by a COVID-19 positive person a risk?
"Is washing dishes and utensils used by a COVID-19 positive person putting my employees at risk?"
Although contaminated surfaces are not the main way COVID-19 spreads, employees still need to be careful when it comes to recently contaminated surfaces like used dishes and utensils. Employees that are washing or otherwise handling the used dishes and utensils should be very diligent about not touching their face and regularly washing their hands.
Employees should also follow the CDC and FDA guidelines and use gloves when handling any used dishes, cups/glasses, or silverware. If possible, disposable gloves should be used and discarded after use. If reusable gloves are used, those gloves should be dedicated for handling dishes and utensils and should not be used for other purposes. Hands should be washed before and after using gloves.
Wash the dishes and utensils in a 3-compartment sink or a dishwasher using appropriate detergent and hot water. The dishwasher should be able to reach a temperature of 165⁰F if chemical sanitizer is used for the final rinse, and 180⁰F if high temperature and two-phase dishwasher are used to sanitize the dishes and utensils after washing. Although used dishes and utensils might be considered frequently touched surfaces, they are still food-contact surfaces and should not be treated with chemical disinfectants. Consult with your chemical supplier on appropriate sanitizer to be used on dishes and utensils.
Because of the high water temperature used during dishwashing and also because of the high dilution factor occurring during this process we believe transmission through generated mists and droplets is a very unlikely scenario. Employees should still avoid generating unnecessary splashes, droplets and mists during dishwashing.
Do I have to update my Food Safety Plan to specifically address COVID-19?
"Do I have to update my Food Safety Plan to specifically address COVID-19 in the risk assessment?"
Risk Assessments performed by FDA, CDC, European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) and other agencies around the world suggest that COVID-19 is not transmitted through food consumption. This information can be included in your Risk Assessment if you wish to update your Food Safety Plan. However, with the extremely low food safety risk and the low risk to the consumer (supported by USDA and FDA position documents that state that COVID-19 is not foodborne) there is no need to make any modifications to your current Food Safety Plan.
The primary risk with COVID-19 is transmission from person-to-person. Hence, make sure you have a strategy in place to reduce this type of risk to the employee, including (i) an SOP for cleaning and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces (with an associated list of frequently touched surfaces covered by this SOP), and (ii) an SOP for procedures to follow when employee is tested for and/or tests positive for COVID-19. This is good time to remind your employees to keep practicing social distancing, frequently wash their hands, avoid touching their face, cover their mouth and nose with a handkerchief or a sleeve when sneezing or coughing, and to stay home if they have any symptoms.
Do I have to clean frequently touched surfaces every time I sanitize them?
"I’ve implemented a new procedure to more frequently sanitize frequently touched surfaces (e.g., door knobs) in my facility to prevent person-to-person spread of COVID-19. Do I have to clean these surfaces every time before I use a sanitizer on them?"
Frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and light switches, represent potential transfer points of contamination between individuals that are otherwise practicing currently recommended social distancing of minimum 6 feet. Hence, it is important to identify these potential transfer points in the production facility and develop and implement SOPs or protocols to assure that these points are cleaned and sanitized with enhanced frequency.
Our suggestion is to have a separate procedure/SOP for “Enhanced sanitation of frequently touched surfaces to prevent person-to-person spread of COVID-19”, which is distinct from routine SSOPs that are already in place. If surfaces are smooth and impervious with no apparent accumulation of soils, enhanced sanitation of these surfaces can occur without prior cleaning. However, it is essential that regular routine cleaning and sanitation of these frequently touched surfaces continues as specified in the SSOPs. Importantly, cleaning of these surfaces still needs to occur when the regular (non-enhanced) cleaning/sanitizing is performed.
Are water fountains a risk for transmission of COVID-19?
"Are water fountains that my employees use a risk for transmission of COVID-19; what would be considered the best practice when it comes to water fountains?"
According to the CDC (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Team, Community Interventions Task Force, COVID-19 Response), there is currently no specific recommendation to shut down water fountains. Water fountains are considered high-traffic, high-touch surfaces, so they should be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis (e.g., daily), and possibly more frequently with high use. Consult your chemical supplier on cleaning and disinfection products and methods that are both effective and appropriate for the device, and that conform to the device manufacturers’ directions. Frequently touched surfaces on a water fountain that should be cleaned and disinfected may include handles, knobs, basins, and water spigots. No-touch fountains should also be cleaned and disinfected the same as for conventional water fountains. COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water, and there is no evidence to show transmission from water fountains or from drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should be sufficient to remove and inactivate this virus which is known to be highly unstable outside of the human host.
Additional recommendations for using common, high traffic water fountains may include:
- Do not use the water fountain for washing hands or any other items.
- Do not spit water back into a water fountain.
- Use a single-use cup to collect the water.
- Water fountains used by children may need to be disinfected more frequently. Children should be instructed on the proper way to use water fountains.
- Follow social distancing recommendations of at least 6 feet and do not congregate around water fountains.
- Wear a cloth face covering when in public and near fountains where other people may be present.
- Pay attention to how your cloth face covering is removed before and re-adjusted after drinking the water in order to prevent touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.
- Wash your hands (for at least 20 seconds with soap and water) after touching a water fountain.
- Post signage near water fountains to encourage wearing a cloth face covering, social distancing, hand hygiene, and how to properly use the water fountain.
Is COVID-19 transmitted in fresh produce?
"Is COVID-19 transmitted in fresh produce?"
No. Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, most likely to be transmitted person-to-person. This is unlike foodborne viruses we normally talk about in produce (e.g., Norovirus, Hepatitis A) which spread easily through the fecal-oral route. It is important to remember that eating fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a normal diet is beneficial to overall health. Fresh produce helps provide nutrients that are key to maintaining proper body weight and preventing chronic illnesses like diabetes.
What are best practices when transporting farm workers?
"What are appropriate practices regarding COVID-19 in social distancing and sanitation, with respect to transporting farm workers between farm sites?"
CDC defines social distancing as remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 ft or 2 meters) from others when possible. It may be hard to fully implement these practices on a bus, but employees should avoid sitting close to other passengers and when possible, sit a seat apart. Enter only from rear doors to maintain a safe distance from the driver or have the driver step off the bus and passengers enter/exit one at a time to avoid close contact. The FDA has acknowledged that complete social distancing may not be possible in all work scenarios and facilities, but it is important to remain vigilant in practicing good hygiene, like hand-washing, that have always been key to safe food handling and processing. Additional steps such as wearing cloth face coverings is also an option, but does not remove the need to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet.
Sanitation practices should focus on surfaces frequently touched by employees and drivers. These surfaces likely include windows and mechanisms to lower and raise them, seat belts, the steering wheel, button or handle to open doors, and the seats themselves. Developing a protocol to clean and sanitize these surfaces will reduce the spread of contamination.
How can I reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 at my farm stand?
"How can I reduce the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 at my farm stand?"
First, consider implementing practices that encourage customers to implement social distancing while they are on the farm. This could mean putting signs up to instruct customers to stay at least 6 feet apart or placing tape on the ground so when customers are waiting to check out, they will stay at least 6 feet apart. You can also encourage the use of cloth face coverings to reduce the likelihood that asymptomatic carriers will spread the virus while they are working or shopping. Many customers may be concerned about other customers touching produce before they buy it. Even though there is no research to indicate that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be transmitted through food, farms may consider limiting customers touching produce. In a farm stand scenario, farms could move to customers pointing to which produce they would like to purchase and a farm stand employee packing it for them. This would increase interpersonal interactions, making social distancing a challenge, so that needs to be considered.
How would I amend my visitor policy to protect against COVID-19?
"How would I amend my visitor policy to protect my produce, workers, and customers?"
First, follow your state and federal government guidance on changing work place policy recommendations for how many people can congregate at specific events and locations. Next, modify your current visitors’ policy to include social distancing practices. This means encouraging visitors to stay at least 6 feet away from others. Consider encouraging visitors to wear cloth face coverings, but it is important to make it clear that cloth face coverings do not reduce the need for social distancing. As always, instruct visitors to stay home if they are sick. Be clear that no one with signs and symptoms of any illness is allowed to enter your farm. Identify where toilets and hand-washing facilities are located, encourage visitors to use the facilities often, and share any other visitor policies that you have in place.
Can I freeze milk?
"Can I freeze milk?"
Fluid milk can be frozen if you want to keep it for a long time (months), however note that upon thawing, the texture of the milk may change and the fat/cream may separate. To our knowledge, there is no current disruption in the milk supply as dairy processing plants are considered essential and functioning at 100% capacity, so fresh, pasteurized milk should be in normal supply. If you decide you need to freeze milk, make sure you take some milk out of the container, as it will expand (about 10%) when it freezes, therefore a certain headspace (empty space) will be needed to keep the container from breaking in the freezer. Remove enough so that the top level of the milk is about 2 inches below the top of the container. Also, it is NOT recommended to freeze milk or any other liquids in glass containers due to the high probability of breakage. In addition, it would be a good idea to write the date when you put it in the freezer on the container, as the ‘sell by’ date will no longer apply. You can keep it for much longer than that, but only use milk that has not already expired. When you want to use the milk, thaw it by placing the container in the refrigerator or in cold water.
Are people that drink milk protected from COVID-19?
"I heard that milk contains some anti-viral proteins and peptides like lactoferrin; are people that drink milk protected from COVID-19?"
There are currently no peer-reviewed studies that support any claims that specific foods, or their components, provide significant protection against infection with COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 infection is to practice social distancing (at least 6 feet), wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
Meat & Seafood-related
Can animals raised for food/animal products be a source of infection?
"Can animals raised for food and animal products be a source of infection with COVID-19?"
As detailed by the CDC, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife in the United States, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time. There is also currently no evidence to suggest that imported animals or animal products pose a risk for spreading COVID-19 in the United States.
This work is supported by USDA NIFA AFRI Grant NO:2020-68006-32875/ Accession no. 1024254 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the USDA.