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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

COVID-19 - ANSES's recommendations on food, shopping and cleaning

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News of 27/03/2020

What precautions should I take after going shopping? Does food need to be cooked to destroy the virus? Can I eat fruits and vegetables raw without any further preparation? ANSES examined the possibilities of the COVID-19 disease being transmitted via food, on the basis of the available scientific data. Here are our answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Can farm animals fall ill and infect us?

There is no evidence that farm animals, or the foods derived from them, play a role in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Any transmission via food would therefore only be possible if the food had been contaminated by a patient or person infected with the virus, when touching it with dirty hands or exposing it to infectious droplets produced when coughing or sneezing.

Can eating contaminated food make us sick?

There is currently no scientific evidence to suggest that the virus can contaminate us through the digestive tract. However, the possibility of the respiratory tract becoming infected when chewing contaminated food cannot be completely ruled out. If you are ill, you absolutely must avoid handling food and cooking for others.

Is it really necessary to cook fruits and vegetables?

No. After purchase, fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly with drinking water before they are cooked or eaten. Never use disinfectants such as bleach or detergent, as they can be toxic if not properly rinsed. It is unnecessary to use white vinegar to rinse fruits and vegetables, as it has no virucidal effect. After washing the food with drinking water, wiping it with a single-use paper towel helps remove any viral particles. Whenever possible, peel fruits and vegetables to be consumed raw.

How should vegetables be prepared if they are not to be eaten raw?

Begin by washing your vegetables in drinking water.

Thorough cooking to an internal temperature of 70°C is recommended for inactivating numerous micro-organisms. It can also destroy any SARS-CoV-2 virus potentially present (this particular virus is sensitive to a temperature of 63°C for 4 min.). 

Remember to wash vegetables in drinking water and wipe them with a single-use paper towel to reduce the risk of transmission through cross-contamination, for example spreading the virus to your hands.

Do these hygiene rules also apply to packaging?

Food packaging may have been contaminated when handled by an infected person (touched with dirty hands, sneezed on, etc.). Even though the virus causing the disease cannot survive for more than three hours on packaging surfaces, you can take additional precautions by wiping the packaging with a damp single-use paper towel. As long as the packaged products do not need to be refrigerated, you can also leave them to sit for two or three hours after taking them home from the shops. For foods that need to be kept in the refrigerator, remove the outer packaging (e.g. the cardboard around pots of yoghurt) before storage whenever possible. Obviously, hands must be washed thoroughly before and after handling this packaging.

Is white vinegar effective at destroying viruses on packaging?

Studies have shown that white vinegar is ineffective at destroying viruses on food or packaging.

What precautions should I take when returning home from the shops?

First, you need to wash your hands. Even though the virus causing the disease cannot survive for more than three hours on packaging surfaces, you can take additional precautions by wiping the packaging with a damp single-use paper towel. For foods that need to be kept in the refrigerator, whenever possible, remove the outer packaging (e.g. the cardboard around pots of yoghurt) and clean the products with a damp paper towel before storage. Remember to wash your hands again immediately afterwards.

Should I re-heat my bread?

Bread is baked at a high temperature during preparation, which eliminates viruses. Bakers, like other food professionals, are very aware of hygiene rules (regular hand washing and/or wearing gloves when serving, bread placed in bags, etc.). The risk of virus transmission is negligible under these conditions, so there is no need to re-heat your bread.

If you are ill, you should take all steps to avoid handling bread and preparing food.

Can COVID-19 be contracted through contact with contaminated surfaces?

Some studies carried out under experimental conditions that differ from those encountered in everyday life have shown that the virus can remain infectious to varying degrees on inert surfaces . The risk of coming into contact with the virus by handling contaminated objects cannot therefore be theoretically ruled out, but it is low. This is why it is important to follow these rules: do not touch your face while shopping, and wash your hands when you return home after putting away your groceries.

What is the best way to clean potentially contaminated surfaces?

Potentially contaminated surfaces can be cleaned with ordinary household products (soap, detergents, etc.). If you use bleach, handle this product with care as it is highly oxidising and caustic to the skin, mucous membranes and other materials.

Telephones (in direct contact with your hands and face), computer keyboards, touch-screen tablets and door handles can be vectors for transmission of the virus and should be cleaned with a suitable product (for example, disinfectant wipes that can be used on touch-screens, paper towels soaked in 70° - 70 % -  alcohol for compatible materials).