By now, safety protocols such as keeping at least six feet away from other people, wearing masks, and frequent hand washing are being adopted across the world to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus. Besides this, some of us go the extra mile to ensure that we do not get infected through one of the most essential things for survival – food. We wash our vegetables/fruits/meat in hot water and sanitize our groceries while wondering if there is any chance of the virus lingering on these food items. Some food experts suggest that the Coronavirus cannot survive on properly cooked food but that leaves us with one big question – what about refrigerated or frozen food?
We will try and answer this question in this article.
What does research say about the transmission of Coronavirus through food?
As per the World Health Organization (WHO), you are very unlikely to contract COVID-19 infection from food or food packaging. Several healthcare organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Transmission (CDC) and WHO has maintained that the primary transmission route of the Coronavirus is person-to-person contact through the respiratory droplets from an infected person. So far there is no evidence to suggest that the Coronavirus infection can be transmitted via food since this virus needs a human or animal host to multiply and sustain. However, restaurants and the food industry need to follow strict personal hygiene guidelines like wearing masks while handling food and washing hands frequently with soap and water. This can reduce the risk of contamination of the food packaging surfaces and materials with the Coronavirus.
Can frozen or refrigerated food carry the Coronavirus?
A few months ago, there were reports of a sample of frozen chicken wings from Brazil being tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in China. However, virologists don’t find it very alarming and have indicated that most Coronavirus lab tests pick up even remnants or traces of the Coronavirus genetic debris, but that isn’t the full virus. And that food testing positive for the COVID-19 virus doesn’t necessarily mean it would make you sick after consumption. As you may have heard or read many times by now, a virus like COVID-19 only replicates in humans and animals, and don’t remain infectious on surfaces (including food and food surfaces) for an extended period of time.
If you still have concerns about whether frozen or refrigerated food carries this virus, try cooking your food at a high temperature (70 degrees Celsius or more for thirty minutes). While experts continue with their extensive studies to know exactly what temperature kills the Coronavirus strain, the WHO has reported that SARS Coronavirus (another type of Coronavirus) dies at 56 degrees Celsius. As a standard safety precaution, WHO recommends that poultry and dairy products like meat and eggs should be properly cooked and should not be consumed raw or frozen. Not only the Coronavirus, but heating food can also render viruses like rotavirus and hepatitis A inactive as it spreads through the gastrointestinal tract.
Food safety measures while handling frozen or refrigerated foods
To eliminate or reduce all the risks of getting COVID-19 and other infectious diseases from food, try to adopt a few simple food safety precautions:
- Store raw and cooked food separately – Isolate and store raw foods like uncooked meat and seafood from other foods, as the former could carry other harmful microorganisms. Besides, use separate chopping boards and knives to cut these food items. Clean knives and surfaces with soap and water after every use.
- Store food items in the refrigerator as per date and temperature labels - It is a good practice to store frozen food as per its “use-by” dates and storage temperatures. Also, check any additional storage instructions that are mentioned on the package. Remember to heat food after taking out from the refrigerator and don’t leave frozen food exposed in room temperature for long as bacteria may start growing, which can be harmful to your health.
- Wash Hands - Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after and before handling refrigerated food items. Use alcohol-based sanitizers if handwashing facilities are not available. This simple step will help kill potentially harmful pathogens, including the Coronavirus from your hands.
- Wear a face mask - Wear a face mask and keep your hands away from your mouth, nose, and eyes while handling and preparing food. This step will help eliminate all the potential routes of contamination and infection.
Many foods and meat industries around the world are already following strict food safety precautions that include good hygiene practices, cleaning, sanitation, and all the conditions necessary to maintain a hygienic food processing environment. However, it is advisable to take additional safety precautions from your side. At a critical time like this, when experts are still trying to unravel whether Coronavirus can or cannot withstand changes in the temperature (hot or cold), keep washing your hands and food along with other safety measures. As of now, it requires more evidence and investigation to derive a concrete conclusion about whether consumption of refrigerated food items can cause Coronavirus infection.