Can You Get COVID-19 From Food or Packaging?

There is no evidence of the virus being spread via food; experts say don't wash food with soap
March 31, 2020 Updated: March 31, 2020

While the new CCP virus remains a mystery, there is no evidence that it can be transmitted through food or packaging, according to health experts.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that the main spread of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, a type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is believed to be person-to-person.

“Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission,” the FDA says on its website.

However, the experts say that the CCP virus could be spread via an infected food preparer who didn’t properly wash their hands after using the bathroom.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 has also been detected in the stool of certain people,” Harvard Medical School’s Coronavirus Resource Center says on its website. “So we currently cannot rule out the possibility of the infection being transmitted through food by an infected person who has not thoroughly washed their hands.”

The virus also is likely killed off by cooking, but not room temperature foods such as sandwiches or salads, according to the school’s website.

Another expert was more explicit in saying that it can’t be transmitted via food.

“We don’t really have any evidence that food or food packaging is a source for getting sick” from the CCP virus, Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, told Live Science this week.

“One of the benefits we have in the food world is we’re already thinking of those things a lot—we’re constantly trying to stay away from transmission of foodborne pathogens in normal, regular times,” Chapman said.

coronavirus under microscope
This transmission electron microscope image shows the virus that causes COVID-19 isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab in February 2020. (NIAID-RML/CC BY 2.0)

Chapman said that it isn’t clear if people can get infected by touching their mouths or eating contaminated food.

“It’s not that it’s not possible” for such a thing to occur, he said. “There’s always this possibility. But I want to make the best risk management decision based on the best science and evidence, and we just don’t have any evidence in that area,” he added.

Chapman recommends that for people who are concerned, they can wash their hands after handling food packaging, rinse fruits and vegetables, and cook the food at 149 degrees F for 3 minutes to reduce the potential levels of the virus.

He stressed there is no reason to wash food with soap and water, saying that “soap is for hands” and “not for food,” according to the science website.

“We’ve known for 60 years that there are toxicity issues about consuming household dish soaps,” he said, according to Live Science. “Drinking dish soap or eating it can lead to nausea, can lead to [an] upset stomach. It’s not a compound that our stomach is really built to deal with.”