Amid this pandemic, you may be having conversations with family members similar to my own. I was talking to my brother about going to the grocery store and buying some eggs for baking when I was pretty strictly told that “no, you shouldn’t because the virus can be transmitted through food.” As a scientist myself, this was intriguing advice. So, I asked him to show me where he had read it. Sadly, nowadays when we are bombarded with news at every corner we turn, we were unable to backtrack his source.
Moreover, a look at the World Health Organization website directly contradicts him. “There is currently no confirmed case of COVID–19 transmitted through food or food packaging,” WHO explains in response to one of its FAQs on how to safely shop for groceries. Though this topic had me intrigued, I am not a food safety specialist or a microbiologist. But this topic definitely had my attention and I decided to pursue it.
Here’s what I have found.
COVID–19 novel virus first affects the respiratory system. Lungs are the first organ affected because of the mode of infection of the virus causing COVID–19. The virus is transmitted through touching, sneezing or coughing in the air. When one is standing close to another person infected with COVID–19, they can easily be infected (that’s why social distancing is important!) The virus travels in the air through the water droplets (through sneezing or coughing). These droplets can stay where they drop… your hands, face, or surfaces at home or work like counters, doorknobs, etc.
Since there is a fairly high chance of us touching something where such viral droplets might have dropped, it is crucial to not touch our face and wash our hands after touching things or being outside. If one were to touch their face, the virus can be transmitted into our body through our nose, mouth, or eyes and travel to lungs and cause our system to go haywire!
Once infected with a virus, there is some time before infection in one’s body starts to show. For COVID–19 specifically, 5.1 days was estimated. Additionally, it was found that people showed symptoms about 11.5 days after infection (Thus the need for 14-day self-isolation).
Thinking about the food that we eat, several questions come to our mind: Does the virus stick to the food or its packaging, and can we be infected by touching food?
A study measured air and surface viability of COVID–19. They checked how stable the virus was on aerosols, plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard. The researchers found that COVID–19 stayed alive on these surfaces for varying amount of times. The virus was short-lived in the air (3 hours) and copper (4 hours). Though, the virus stayed alive for longer times on cardboard (24 hours), plastic and stainless steel (72 hours).
So far, no research has been conducted to determine what temperatures the COVID–19 virus can survive.
But, you may know that the virus needs to enter one’s body and make copies of itself to survive (learn more in our ScIU post: COVID–19: What is it? What you should know about it?), making it crucial to stop infection of the virus. We can do our part by sanitizing every food surface that might have come in contact with an infected source. According to WHO, observing their advice to wash fruits and vegetables is an important food safety tips to not accidentally transmit the virus and bacteria.
So, it is definitely okay to frantically clean all the things that have been delivered to your doorstep. Any precautions that you can take will lessen your chances to become one of the statistics.