Burlington--In recent weeks, University of Vermont Extension has received several questions related to the coronavirus that produces COVID-19. To help address public concerns about food safety and the virus, Dr. Omar A. Oyarzabal, UVM Extension food safety specialist, has provided answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

Is the food from the grocery store safe for consumption?

Yes, it is. Food manufacturers and grocery stores already have in place good manufacturing practices or GMPs as well as cleaning and sanitation practices to reduce the transmission of any food-borne pathogen. These practices are established to reduce the potential for contamination of food-contact surfaces and foods.

Currently, all food manufacturers and retails stores are increasing these practices to ensure the continued safety of the food supply. It is also important to remember that this virus is not a food-borne agent, meaning that it will not be acquired by ingesting contaminated food.

Do we need to wash items once we get home, such as cans and packaged products?

No, you don't. Besides, it will be quite impractical in some cases. It is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap after you return home. You also can use disposable gloves, but make sure you use a pair for one single use or activity, and then dispose of them.

Always wash your hands before and after wearing gloves. The type of soap or the temperature of the water when washing hands is not as important as the time spent lathering your hands by rubbing them together before rinsing. The whole process should take at least 20 seconds. 

Do I need to keep my food separate at home for several days after buying it and before consuming?

No, there is no need to "isolate" your food, but please follow the normal practice of washing hands before and after touching food.

Could plastic or paper bags from a store be contaminated?

It is highly improbable there is any contamination. In any case, if your store allows it, you can bring your own reusable bags although may be asked to bag your own groceries. Always follow basic hygiene practices, and wash hands before and after touching foods.

Is it safe to have takeout food that was prepared in a restaurant, and are the containers safe to touch?

Yes. However, if you see anyone handling a food container with bare hands, you should advise the employees of that restaurant of the need to wear gloves to increase the use of protective barriers. You should, again, wash hands after returning home.

If I microwave the food, will it kill the virus if the food was contaminated?

Yes, the virus is destroyed by regular cooking processes. Therefore, reheating food to temperatures about 170 degrees Fahrenheit will destroy any potential contamination.

Can pets transmit the disease?

No, we don't know of any transmission from pets. Cats can carry the virus as this has been well documented with other coronaviruses. There are already cases of dogs testing positive for the current coronavirus in households where at least one person developed symptoms and was positive for this virus. But so far, pets, like foods, are not a route of transmission.  



Omar Oyarzabal