COVID-19 from food

Update: you can see my interview on this topic with Very Well Fit here!

Some more common questions I wanted to share with readers about contracting COVID-19 from food (we all need to eat, after all!):

Is COVID-19 transmitted via food itself or items like food containers and grocery bags? 

COVID-19 can be transmitted on nearly any inanimate surface for anywhere from several hours to several days, depending on the surface, as shown in an early study from my colleagues at UCLA and the NIH. While COVID-19 may be transmitted on food, as well, it is important to recognize that we are far more likely to contract the disease from the utensils that we touch and that come in contact with our faces. This is because the virus is unlikely to infect us once swallowed (even less so if the food is cooked). Since food containers and grocery bags represent a possible virus exposure, it is recommended to treat any outside packaging as infected and to be disposed of immediately followed by careful hand washing. The over arching concept is to never touch our faces (the viral entry point) when handling these items and to avoid bringing these containers into the home.

Does heating/cooking the food reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19?

Fortunately, cooking food kills coronavirus, and this should be a reassurance to us cooking our own foods at home. That being said, there is an important risk-benefit ratio to consider for eating raw foods, as the health benefits of whole vegetables and fruits, such as salads, cannot be understated in supporting our health and immune systems. The health benefits of vegetables of fruits, if washed thoroughly with water, likely outweighs the very small risk of viral contamination on the food itself. Furthermore, it is unlikely to contract COVID-19 from food swallowed through the mouth in the first place, so we should continue consuming fresh vegetables and fruits if we desire.

When washing fresh vegetables and fruits, don’t use soap! Wash with cold water, as soap is not safe to consume by mouth!

Additionally, restaurant take out is also safe, as discussed in previous posts, given the temperature lability of coronaviruses (inactivated around 60 degrees Celsius). Watch out for the utensils though! They represent the far more likely entry point, so dispose of napkins, chopsticks, forks, spoons, plates, containers, etc. and use your own utensils!

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