Food Safety in the Time of COVID-19: Survival of the coronavirus on surfaces

Studies have shown that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for up to several days.  Is this cause for concern? A recent study from the National Institute of Health  noted that under laboratory conditions, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces. Scientists found that SARS-CoV-2 was detectable in aerosols for up to 3 hours, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to 3 days on plastic or stainless steel.

What implications does this have for public health?  The Centers for Disease Control tells us that coronaviruses are primarily spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. While it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching the inside of the mouth or nose, or possibly their eyes, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads and there is no current evidence that transfer transmission does occur. The NIH laboratory study indicated potential survival on surfaces under ideal conditions; the scientists did not determine if the virus could be picked up by hands from a contaminated surface and then survive to transfer into the mouth or nose.

Scientists do tell us that the research results suggest that the coronavirus is considered to have poor survivability on surfaces. This is good news for food safety as it indicates there is very low risk of spread from surfaces, especially food packages that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.

What is our best response?  According to the CDC physical distancing remains the most important way in which we can help stop the spread of COVID-19. The second most important step that we can all take is to wash our hands!  In the unlikely event that you do come in contact with viable coronavirus particles on a surface, washing your hands will destroy the virus before you can transfer particles into your mouth or nose. Another practical every-day food safety response is to keep surfaces clean, including kitchens and bathrooms. Stay well and food-safe, Barb

Published on April 30, 2020