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In the run-up to stocking home shelves as people prepare to stay home for an extended period of time, people sometimes dismiss food safety rules as they pack their refrigerators, creating issues that can cause potential foodborne illness. Judging by the empty shelves of sanitizers and cleaning chemicals in grocery stores, it is hopeful people are actually using such supplies, to include in their kitchen and food preparation areas. The following two websites give great information to the consumer on safely handling, cooking and storing food.

Some Added DOs

  • DO store like items together in the refrigerator.
  • DO clean surfaces first and then sanitize surfaces with a sanitizer cloth or spray.
  • DO give sanitizers time to work. Follow the preparation and use instructions, and allow the recommend contact time to air dry.
  • DO remember there are potential hazards associated with your food, protect ready-to-eat foods from contamination and cook foods designed to be cooked properly to the specified time/temperature.
  • DO wash your hands often, especially after coming into your home, before preparing or serving foods, while handling foods designed to be cooked and before eating any foods. A good rule of thumb is to wash your hands when you are going from one type of food to another in terms of hand handling.

Some Added DON'Ts

  • DO NOT store items designed to be cooked (fresh chicken, ground beef, eggs, etc) with RTE items (leafy greens, fresh vegetables, etc).
  • DO NOT use the same utensils/surfaces to prepare foods designed to be cooked and then RTE foods without cleaning & sanitizing them in between. This is to prevent cross-contamination, as bacteria that can make people sick could be on these utensils/surfaces and if used uncleaned can transfer the bacteria to the RTE foods that has no kill step to destroy the pathogenic bacteria prior to consumption.
  • DO NOT mix ammonia and bleach if you are attempting to make home-style sanitizers. This is very dangerous, as it creates toxic fumes called chloramines which can kill. Bleach and ammonia are designed to be used by themselves and NOT in combination.

FDA-CFSAN Portal

For Questions Related to Food Safety During the COVID-19 Outbreak

  • Visit this page from FDA Center for Food Safety and Nutrition to find an electronic form where you can submit your COVID-19 food safety questions directly to the FDA Center for Food Safety and Nutrition.
    Posted on March 20, 2020.
  • Visit this page from FDA to find answers to Frequently Asked Questions on COVID-19.
    Posted on March 20, 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions


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Q: How should we treat packaging? How should we handle other groceries or make sure they’re safe?

(Updated 4/1/20)

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.


Q: Is there any legitimate threat of a food shortage?

(Posted 3/30/20)

No. There are no nationwide shortages of food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low due to mass buying and a normal lag before stores can restock. Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the U.S. and there are currently no wide-spread disruptions reported in the supply chain. Food production is classified as an essential function that will not be restricted due to COVID-19.


Q: Beyond basic food hygiene, is extra precaution now warranted in kitchens while preparing food?

(Posted 3/30/20)

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.


Q: Does the type of food make a difference in increasing or lowering risk to COVID-19? (Hot/cooked food vs. cold/raw food – like a salad)

(Posted 3/30/20)

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.


Q: Should we buy frozen or canned foods instead of fresh right now?

(Posted 3/30/20)

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.


Q: Should we be using reusable bags? If we use reusable bags, how should we keep them safe?

(Posted 3/30/20)

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.


Q: How should we wash fresh produce?

(Posted 3/30/20)

With cold running water only. 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.


Q: Can I freeze milk?

(Posted 3/30/20)

Fluid milk can be frozen, however, note that (i) fluid milk is a safe product and freezing will not make it safer, (ii) freezing will not maintain the quality of the milk. There is no disruption in the milk supply as dairy processing plants are considered essential and functioning at 100% capacity, so fresh milk should be in normal supply. If you decide you need to freeze milk, make sure you take some out of the container, as milk will expand when it freezes, so a head space to keep the container from rupturing is essential. Take out enough so that the top level of the milk is about 2 inches from the top of the container. Also, you should write the date frozen on the container, as the ‘sell by’ date will no longer be valid. Freeze it as quickly as possible and only use milk that has not already expired. It is NOT recommended to freeze milk or any other liquids in glass containers.


Q: I saw a video on YouTube from MD Jeffrey VanWingen recommending disinfecting every food package that comes from stores/deliveries, and washing fruits and vegetables with soap to avoid contracting COVID-19. Why is this group not recommending the practices this doctor illustrates?

(Posted 3/27/20)

USDA is specifically advising against the use of soap and other detergents and sanitizers to wash produce since detergents and sanitizers will absorb into produce which may lead to health issues upon ingestion.

Currently, there is no evidence of food, including produce and food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Not a single positive case of COVID-19 has been linked to food. The coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, most likely to be transmitted person-to-person through respiratory droplets. 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. 


Q: 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.)

(Posted 3/26/20)

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 one week, 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.


Q: Why is social distancing and self-quarantine important to keep the food supply chain running properly? What is the food supply chain actually made up of? (farmers, drivers, stores, etc.)

(Posted 3/26/20)

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. The best way to prevent the illness is to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus, hence one important measure (in addition to frequent hand washing) is to keep social distancing of at least 6 feet. Any infected person must avoid contact with other people by self-quarantining for the period of time specified by their healthcare provider. In order to keep the food supply chain running properly, we need healthy workers to perform their jobs, and that can only be achieved by following current safe food handling procedures that include social distancing and self-quarantine.

The food supply includes farmers, packers, producers, suppliers, storage facilities, manufacturers, processors, warehouses, transportation systems, food/grocery retail stores, food preparation for immediate consumption establishments (restaurants, cafeterias, pizza shops, etc.) and other food distribution systems (such as online purchasing).


Q: 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?

(Posted 3/26/20)

The best way to prevent the illness is to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus, hence the most important measures are:

  1. 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;
  2. 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.

CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), How It Spreads


Q: I heard that milk contains some anti-viral proteins and peptides like lactoferrin; are people that drink milk protected from COVID-19? I heard that in China this is what they recommend?

(Posted 3/26/20)

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.


Q: I heard a report that COVID-19 could survive on surfaces for 17 days. Is it true?

(Posted 3/25/20)

A recent study of cruise ships published by CDC noted that COVID-19 RNA was identified on a variety of surfaces for up to 17 days. They add, this was before disinfection procedures had been conducted. The study also stated the data cannot be used to determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces, and further studies of fomite (objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture) transmission of COVID-19 are needed.

Takeaways for the food industry are:

  1. CDC detected RNA from COVID-19, genetic material can still be present on a surface even after the virus is inactive, and thus not infective. They did not confirm whether there was active, infective virus present on the surfaces. Refer to: How long can COVID-19 remain viable on different surface.

  2. This sampling was done prior to disinfection, industry standard cleaning and sanitizations procedures will remove and inactivate COVID-19. Refer to our Information on Disinfectants Active Against COVID-19.

CDC Report: Public Health Responses to COVID-19 Outbreaks on Cruise Ships — Worldwide, February–March 2020


Q: Do I need to stockpile as many groceries and supplies as I can? Is there a shortage of food and supplies I should be concerned about?

(Posted 3/24/20)

No. Only buy what your family needs for a week, practicing social distancing to minimize contact with people. It is important to remember that many families may be unable to buy a supply of food and water 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.


Q: Is it safe to order takeout food in NYC? Are there any special precautions to follow because of COVID-19?

(Posted 3/23/20)

It is safe to order and consume takeout food in NYC or in any areas in NY State. All food preparation establishments are required to adhere to safe food practices as dictated by the Department of Health and FDA. 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 you are concerned about the possible surface contamination of the takeout bag, container or package, in the unlikely event that a person carrying the coronavirus has touched those surfaces, then you can minimize the risk by:

  • Maintaining social distance (at least 6 feet) when you pick up the food. Avoid touching your face.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water as soon as you arrive at your home.
  • Remove the food from the takeout bag/package/container and dispose of or recycle them appropriately. Wash your hands again.
  • Wash your hands frequently before handling food, while preparing food, and before consuming food.

And as a general food safety rule, refrigerate leftover food quickly, within 2 hours, and consume within 3-4 days.


Q: 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.

(Posted 3/23/20)

The most important advice is to practice social distancing and frequent handwashing. 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:

  1. Washing hands after returning from shopping
  2. Frequently washing hands during food preparation
  3. Rinsing the outside of fruits and vegetables with water
  4. 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.

Importantly, these are all practices that food safety experts have followed even before COVID-19 as these practices also reduce the risks of other foodborne illnesses. However, going too far in trying to reduce an already low risk, can lead to other risks that are also important and relevant. Hence there are also some “DO NOTs” that experts recommend:

  • DO NOT stop eating fresh fruits and vegetables. They provide considerable nutritional benefits that help maintain personal health and hence enhance the ability to fight off infections
  • DO NOT wash your fruits and vegetables in soap
  • DO NOT mix different sanitizer combinations, as their inappropriate use can create other health hazards
  • DO NOT wash produce in sinks or with utensils that may have been exposed to raw products (e.g., raw eggs, raw meat), as this can lead to cross contamination with microbes that can cause foodborne illness (such as Salmonella).

Q: I saw that an article in VICE says “Can I Get Coronavirus from Food? Scientists Say Yes and to Step Away from the Deli Meats.” Is that true?

(Posted 3/21/20)

Answer (by Martin Wiedmann, who takes full personal responsibility for this answer): This article presents unsubstantiated and un-supported personal opinions and theoretical possibilities. It is important to reiterate that FDA and food safety agencies across the US agree that there is not evidence for foodborne transmission of COVID-19. Just because something is possible, that does not mean it will or has happened or happens frequently enough to present a concern.


Q: Should I mist 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?

(Posted 3/19/20)

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. 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.

Ingesting bleach, other sanitizers, and detergents can be dangerous and lead to other health issues.


Q: How do I know that commercially prepared food (from grocery stores, restaurants, online ordering) delivered to my home/office is safe?

(Posted 3/19/20)

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.


Q: Should I be concerned about contamination of the coronavirus due to food packaging/wrapping? Should I try to clean and sanitize food packages before I open them?

(Posted 3/19/20)

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 (less than 3 days), there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures. 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.


Q: Does cooking foods kill the virus that causes COVID-19?

(Posted 3/19/20)

Yes. The coronavirus is killed by cooking to the safe minimum cooking temperatures specified by FDA and USDA.


Q: How do I properly clean and sanitize food preparation areas at home to protect my family from microbial contamination including the coronavirus?

(Posted 3/19/20)

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.


Q: If someone is sick with COVID-19, can they still prepare food for the family?

(Posted 3/19/20)

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:


Q: I have frozen, canned or dried foods at home that are past the “best by/sell by/expiration date”, are they safe to consume?

(Posted 3/19/20)

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.


Q: 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?

(Posted 3/19/20)

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.


Please also refer to appropriate state and federal guidance for answers to your questions. State and federal guidance may be different than what is detailed here or may have changed since this answer was posted.