Does Refrigerating or Freezing Affect Coronavirus?

We reached out to an expert to learn more on how to stay food safe.

woman adding food to fridge
Photo: Getty Images / Group4 Studio

With all of the information we're learning about the new coronavirus, it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. We previously learned that heat from cooking likely kills the virus, but what about refrigerating or freezing? We looked into the science and reached out to Tamika Sims, PhD, Director of Food Technology Communications at the International Food Information Council for more.

Currently, the CDC reports that there is no known cases of transmission of COVID-19 through food (although you should still practice food safety habits, like good hand washing). It may be possible to get the virus by touching a surface that the virus is on and then touching your face, but it is not the main form of transmission (which is person-to-person). The CDC also adds that COVID-19 has a poor survivability on surfaces outside of a host, so the chances of getting sick from food products or packing is likely very low. Sims states, "Species of viruses are different as far as how they are able to survive on different surfaces and without a living host or host cells. In the case of COVID-19, studies have shown that it can have a survival rate of up to three days on some surfaces."

One 2010 study found that coronaviruses may survive better at lower temperatures and lower humidity, compared to higher ones. "Some studies have found that other coronaviruses that are similar to COVID-19 behave similarly under different temperatures and humidity conditions," Sims adds, "This study found that found that at about 40ºF [which is near refrigeration temperatures], more than two-thirds of the viruses survived for 28 days under laboratory conditions. On the other hand, at 104ºF, the viruses survived for less than six hours."

The WHO states that there is no reason to think cold weather would have any impact on the coronavirus. Certain types of influenza can even survive freezing. The CDC states that there is no data on specific temperatures that deactivate the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

More research is needed to clarify the effect of cold temperatures, but there is strong evidence that cooking your food to a safe temperature may inactivate and kill the virus. Regardless of cooking method, foods and food packaging is not thought to be the main method of virus transmission in humans. "The lipid envelope of COVID-19 makes it highly susceptible to solvent-detergent [reactions]. This is why keeping hands and surfaces clean is an effective way to eliminate the virus on surfaces," says Sims.

Washing your hands correctly, wearing a mask, staying home when you don't feel well and following the guidance of your local public health department are more important ways to prevent the spread of disease.

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.

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