Possibility of Transmission of COVID-19 Via Food Packaging Remains Low, Agencies Underscore
In the year since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global health emergency, the USDA, the FDA and the CDC continue to stress that there’s no credible evidence that food or food packaging is associated with or a likely source of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a release from acting USDA Secretary Kevin Shea and acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD.
The agencies say their confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply has remained steadfast and consumers should be reassured that they “continue to believe, based on understanding of currently available reliable scientific information, and supported by overwhelming international scientific consensus,” that the foods consumers eat and packaging they touch are highly unlikely to spread SARS-CoV-2.
It is crucial to remember that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that spreads from person to person, unlike foodborne or gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus, that make people sick through contaminated food, the release says. While there are few reports of the virus being detected on food and packaging, most studies focus primarily on the detection of the virus’ genetic fingerprint rather than evidence of transmission of virus resulting in human infection.
The agencies stress that “given that the number of virus particles that could be theoretically picked up by touching a surface would be very small and the amount needed for infection via oral inhalation would be very high, the chances of infection by touching the surface of food packaging or eating food is considered to be extremely low.”
They also note that this update is being provided based on the best available information from scientific bodies across the globe, including a continued international consensus that the risk is “exceedingly low for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans via food and food packaging.” For example, the release continues, a recent opinion from the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF) (PDF), stated: “Despite the billions of meals and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 resulting in COVID-19.”
In consideration of the more than 100 million cases of COVID-19, the agencies have not seen epidemiological evidence of food or food packaging as a source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to humans. This type of transmission has not been attributed to food products or packaging through national and international surveillance systems, and food business operations continue to produce a steady supply of safe food following good manufacturing practices and preventative controls. This includes focusing on good hygiene practices and keeping workers safe.
Based on scientific information that has become available over the course of the pandemic, both the USDA and the FDA continue to be confident in the safety of the food available to American consumers and exported to international customers.
More information is available here:
- FDA: Food Safety and COVID-19
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: Joint Statement from USDA and FDA on Food Export Restrictions Pertaining to COVID-19
- USDA: www.usda.gov/coronavirus