Your Food and Coronavirus Questions Answered
From going to the grocery store to getting takeout and keeping your kitchen clean—here is what the experts advise to stay safe when it comes to food and COVID-19.
During this pandemic, people have been worried about food and COVID-19. There is a lot of anxiety around going to the grocery store, getting takeout and feeding yourself and your family, while staying safe.
The good news? There's no evidence that anyone has contracted the new coronavirus through food. The risk is very low based on the information we have about COVID-19, but of course as the virus is new we're still learning more.
Can You Get the Coronavirus Through Food?
There's no known evidence of transmission through food. The CDC reports that the primary way that COVID-19 spreads is from person to person via respiratory droplets. It is possible that those droplets could land on a surface, like food, and be spread to someone else who touches that surface and touches their face. That method of transmission is not believed to be common. To reduce your risk, wash your hands often (for 20 seconds with warm water and soap), use hand sanitizer when you can't wash your hands, try not to touch your face, and clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces.
Practicing general food safety habits will also help. Wash your hands before you start cooking and before you start eating. Wash produce with water. Clean your kitchen often.
Will Heat from Cooking Kill the Coronavirus?
That's very, very likely the case. There haven't been studies done on this new coronavirus, but research done on similar viruses show that sustained high temperatures will destroy viruses (we answer this question about heat and coronavirus more in depth here). However, the myths about saunas, drinking hot tea or taking a hot bath killing the virus don't appear to have any science behind them. If drinking tea or taking a bath helps relax you, great. But don't forget about the other recommended habits to help you stay healthy, like washing your hands, staying home as much as you can and cleaning and disinfecting commonly used surfaces.
Do I Need to Sanitize My Groceries When I Come Home from the Store?
Despite what you may have heard, most experts aren't recommending sanitizing grocery packages or foods. Fruits and vegetables should be washed with just water. Soap and other cleaning chemicals are dangerous to ingest, and even in small amounts can make you feel sick. If wiping down the outside of packages (think, a box of cereal or milk jug) makes you feel better, it won't hurt you, but it's also probably not necessary. Here's more from on what to do with your groceries when you get home.
It's true that research found the new coronavirus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours and for up to 3 days on plastic or stainless steel. But the FDA still isn't recommending wiping down food packages, just washing your hands after unpacking your groceries and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your kitchen often.
Is Fresh Produce Safe to Eat?
Yes. Fresh produce should be washed well with water (not soap or other cleaning chemicals) and it's safe to eat. Make sure you wash your hands before and after handling produce and also wash fruits and veggies with skins or peels—think avocados or oranges. Learn more about fresh produce and keeping yourself safe from COVID-19.
What Are Some Tips to Stay Safe While Grocery Shopping?
The biggest risk while grocery shopping remains close contact with other people. The CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask while out in public places, like the grocery store. Aim to go to the store at uncrowded times and keep your distance from others. Use sanitizing wipes provided to wipe down your cart, bring in only what you need (a card to pay and your list), and clean your hands as soon as you can (either with hand sanitizer when you finish, or washing them as soon as you get home, or both). Also, only touch what you're taking—this is not the time to pick up every single piece of fruit to find the ripest one. Consider using grocery pickup services or delivery services if they're available to you. For more on how to keep yourself safe while grocery shopping, see our list of 10 tips.
Is It Safe to Order Takeout?
It should be safe, but see what local public health departments have recommended in your area as guidance around the country is different and changing frequently. Restaurants and their employees should be practicing good hygiene habits (washing hands, asking employees to stay home when sick, and cleaning and disinfecting more than ever). Choose no-contact payment and delivery or pickup when possible so you can continue to practice safe social distancing. As far as the packaging goes, it's the same as groceries. It's very low risk, but if it makes you feel safer, transfer your takeout to other storage containers or wipe down the outside (not the food you're eating). Read more about keeping yourself safe while ordering food delivery.
Should I Be Worried About a Food Shortage?
Even though grocery store shelves have been emptier than usual, that's mostly due to people "panic buying" and a temporary surge in demand, not a supply chain issue. Experts say there is no need to worry and the FDA and USDA are closely monitoring the food supply and working with grocery stores, food manufacturers and governmental partners to keep things running smoothly.
That said, our food supply chain is not immune to COVID-19. Meatpacking plants have been hit hard by outbreaks and shut down. A recent executive order and guidance from the CDC aims to help keep them open. However, we may not have the same selection and choices as we're used to every time we go to the grocery store.
How Much Food Should I Have on Hand?
Most experts recommend having between one and two weeks' worth of food at home (the most conservative estimates we've seen have gone up to 30 days). That helps make sure you aren't going to the grocery store more frequently than you need to, and also that you have enough at home so that if you or someone in your household gets sick, you can stay put. Two weeks of food doesn't mean panic buying 45 cans of tuna fish and 100 bags of frozen corn (or 200 rolls of toilet paper for that matter). Stocking up on some healthy pantry and freezer foods, as well as hearty vegetables (potatoes, carrots) should help cover you and your family for a week or two, with some supplementary fresh foods.
The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO and their local public health department as resources.