On our virtual sofa, we spoke with resident expert and senior food microbiology consultant, Cathy Moir. Here’s what she had to say on all things food and coronavirus. Grab a cuppa and settle in.
We research foodborne microorganisms. This ensures Australians continue to feel confident the foods we buy are safe to eat. We have a key role in food safety research globally. And we provide advice for Australian consumers and industry. At this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know messages can be confusing. So here is some advice about the risks of respiratory coronavirus and food in your home.
What is the risk of getting COVID-19 infection through food?
There is no current evidence you become infected by eating the coronavirus. It’s a respiratory virus transmitted mainly via nose and eyes, not a gastrointestinal virus. The acid in our stomach is expected to inactivate the virus.
Should we be washing uncooked foods like fruit and vegetables more than usual?
It’s not sensible nor practical to wash all the food you bring into your home especially at this point in time when we’re not seeing widespread environmental contamination, nor extensive community transmission of the coronavirus in Australia.
My advice is from both a practical and food safety perspective. Washing fruit and vegetables in fresh water just prior to eating is enough. This aligns with advice from the US Food and Drug Administration. Please note – hand soap or dishwashing detergent are not designed for direct use on food.
However, at this time of heightened concern, the best advice is to wash your hands with soap – before and frequently – when preparing food and handling food packaging. Washing your hands and not touching your face will minimise the risk of getting an infection after touching surfaces or food packaging.
Remember, there is no evidence you get a respiratory coronavirus infection from eating it. Extra tips for cleaning fresh fruit and vegetables are available on the ABC.
Should we be eating uncooked food, like fruit, vegetables and salads?
Yes, please continue to eat fresh fruit, vegetables and salads. There is no evidence to suggest you become infected from eating coronavirus. The best advice is to wash your hands with soap when preparing fruit and vegetables and to rinse fresh produce with water just before you eat it.
What temperatures do viruses like to live in? Should we be refrigerating foods that we wouldn’t normally?
Viruses don’t ‘live’ or grow outside of their host, they merely exist until they are able to infect their next host. So there is no need to refrigerate food that you wouldn’t normally.
What is the risk of getting coronavirus from surfaces?
The coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 infection is a respiratory virus. It is typically transmitted via respiratory droplets. These come from coughing, sneezing or close contact with other people. Infection may occur if the virus reaches our mucous membranes – eyes, nose and airways. Also after we have touched a contaminated surface and then our face. This is why good personal hygiene is the best way to avoid infection.
Three important things to remember:
- Wash your hands properly and frequently. Including washing your hands when you get home and before preparing food, which you should do anyway.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Sneeze and cough into your elbow or a tissue and put used tissues straight in the bin.
Some additional hygiene advice is available on the Australian Government Department of Health website. Or read more about how the virus spreads.
How long does the virus survive on surfaces?
We don’t know this yet for the virus responsible for COVID-19, but we’re working to find out.
Coronaviruses can survive on surfaces for between hours and days. It depends on the type of surface, the temperature and humidity. Therefore we need people to focus on personal hygiene measures. Washing your hands properly and frequently and not touching your face are key.
What about cleaning at home? What sanitisers should we be using?
Again, we don’t know this yet for virus responsible for COVID-19, but we’re working to find out.
Cleaning should be done before sanitising as dirt can render some sanitisers less effective. Sanitising is different to cleaning – cleaning removes dirt, dust and some microbes. Sanitising is done to inactivate microorganisms.
Regular cleaning of surfaces at home is important. Cleaning with mild soap and water may be entirely adequate assuming there’s no reason to think your home is highly contaminated. The coronavirus is an ‘enveloped’ virus which makes it fairly weak when it comes to cleaning. Soap breaks down the virus envelope, making it inactive.
The following sanitisers have been shown to be most effective at inactivating coronaviruses:
- Ethanol 62-71 per cent for 30 seconds
- 0.5 per cent hydrogen peroxide for one minute
- 0.1 per cent sodium hypochlorite for one minute
Not all of these may be available or practical for use in the home environment. And importantly, more concentrated DOES NOT mean greater kill! Always follow the instructions for use on the container.
I’ve over purchased some items, what’s the best thing to do?
If you find you have purchased too much perishable food such as meat and vegetables, find a good recipe, cook up your excess and freeze it for later.
With the boom in delivery and take away, how long can we keep takeaway food in the fridge?
Leaving food out on the bench allows more time for microorganisms to grow. Perishable food left out (in the temperature danger zone of 5–60°C) for more than two hours should be eaten or refrigerated immediately. If for more than four hours they must be thrown out.
Our top tips are:
- Put leftovers in the fridge straight away after the food has stopped steaming
- Divide large amounts into small containers so they cool quicker
- Eat within three to five days
- Reheat leftovers so they are hot all the way through, using a clean food thermometer to check the centre is 75°C
What is your advice on freezing/not freezing take away or leftovers?
Freezing is a good option for leftovers as it stops microorganisms from growing. Remember to date mark the container e.g. cooked/frozen on (date) so you know how old it is. When defrosting, move the food from the freezer to the fridge the morning or day before you need it. Or straight into the microwave or oven.
9th April 2020 at 12:45 pm
Vietnam zero fatalities, isolation in Army camps. Not in the news though.
So the question is, are people looking at the gut bacteria?
8th April 2020 at 8:43 am
This is very helpful thank you!!!
…….. however Dr Swan has suggested in an ABC CoronaCast this week that infection via ingestion of the virus in food MAY enter and infect the large intestine, and or other intestinal organs – as the pathogen is in some cases also found in the the digestive system.
This dual infection presence is well known with other viruses with different symptoms/pathologies.
I understand that it is not clear if this virus is deactivated in the stomach – especially if ingested in liquids:
– such as regular liquids,thickened liquids for dysphagia, juices, blends, and smoothies
– where the liquid is generally only very briefly in contact with the (diluted) stomach environment.
– or if the large intestine infection is via the bloodstream.
Would appreciate clarification and updates around this important issue for the foodservice and healthcare industry in particular please.
Many thanks and kind regards
7th April 2020 at 3:03 pm
Thank you for the information. I am just wondering as we need more than just water to wash our hands, we need water and soap to wash off the Covid 19 virus – why is rinsing fruit and veggies with only water enough? Could a product like Norwex Fresh Produce Wash and Water possibly work on the F&V like Soap and Water works on our hands? I have also read from a few different sources that Covid19 can sit in our throats for 3-4 days causing a sore throat before finding its way to our airways, could that not possibly be coming via contaminated food? Thank You in advance. Anne.
16th April 2020 at 11:57 am
Hi Anne, thanks for your question. It’s not something our researchers can answer at this stage. Any key developments we will share via our social media channels.
24th April 2020 at 4:30 pm
Hi Anne, thanks for your question.
Cathy has an answer for you! Only products that are designed for food should be used and as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Use of household soap, disinfectants or detergents to wash your food is not recommended. These cleaning products are not designed for human consumption and may actually be unsafe to use with food.
The likelihood that any one of the food items you bring home is contaminated is very low. If it is, the number of infective virus particles is likely to be very small and they do become inactive over time, and so the risk that you will be bringing an infective dose of the coronavirus into your home is even smaller still. It is not sensible nor practical to wash all the packaging or items that you bring into your home. It is important to note that right now in Australia we are not seeing widespread environmental contamination, nor extensive community transmission of the coronavirus so the likelihood of coronavirus being on any item you bring into the home is remote. Washing your hands and not touching your face will minimise the risk of getting an infection after touching surfaces or food packaging.
7th April 2020 at 12:22 am
Should we be eating a lot more pork?
Pigs were intermediate carriers in the Nipah virus. Do pigs offer some immunity with Covid-19?
Countries that do have really low fatality rates. Deaths per 1 million Germany 19, Estonia 14, Romania 8, Czechia 7, Serbia 7, Lithuania 5, Hungary 4, Poland 3, Bulgaria 3, China 2, Belarus 1, Ukraine 0.9, Latvia 0.5, Russia 0.3.
Countries that don’t, some have high fatality rates, Deaths per 1 million, Spain 279, Italy 263, New York 212, France 124, UK 73, USA 29.
6th April 2020 at 6:17 pm
Please remember that Covid19, SARS, MERS, Swine flu, Bird flu and Mad cow have all come from animal agricultural.
When will we learn to stop.eating animals?