Last reviewed 18 January 2021
There is currently no evidence that food is a source of coronavirus (COVID-19) and it is very unlikely it can be transmitted through the consumption of food, according to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).
The main transmission route of the virus is assumed to be direct human to human contact.
Based on what we know about similar viruses, the virus would be inactivated through thorough cooking and the disinfection of food preparation surfaces using appropriate methods.
The risk of contracting novel coronavirus (COVID-19) through the UK food chain is very low. There is currently no evidence to suggest transmission occurs through the foodborne route. Therefore you are very unlikely to catch COVID-19 from food.
Based on the available information, three risks have been identified:
- Risk from contaminated food – evidence suggests that the risk from contaminated food is very low. It is highly unlikely coronavirus can be spread through food however as with other infections good hygiene practices should be followed in food preparation.
- Risk from infected food handlers – evidence suggest the main mechanism of transmission is considered to be human to human. All food workers should ensure the necessary personal and environmental controls are in place to prevent the transmission of pathogens through food, food preparation surfaces or food packaging, in line with their business’ HACCP.
- Risk from contaminated food contact materials - evidence suggests that the risk from food contact materials is very low. Good hygienic practices should already be in place during the manufacturing stages to significantly reduce the risk of contaminating any food contact materials and articles.
Read the Food Standards Agency’s Qualitative risk assessment on the risk of food or food contact materials as a transmission route for SARS-CoV-2.
Self-assessment tools for business
The self-assessment tools provide a practical toolkit for food businesses and food retail establishments in maintaining internal audit records to demonstrate ongoing compliance with COVID-19 protective measures.
Use of these tools will allow businesses to demonstrate that they are following the measures required which is important when public health officials are gathering information to assess business compliance and provide information to any potential incident management team in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The tools have been developed with regulators, business representatives and trade unions and supports the Scottish Governments COVID-19 Strategic Framework and their COVID-19 Safety and Compliance Programme.
Nonetheless, it is important to follow good hygiene practice at all times when handling food, taking the following precautions to prevent the spread of infection:
- Wash hands thoroughly throughout the preparation of food, in particular:
- after coughing or sneezing
- after going to the toilet
- before eating and drinking
- Hand sanitiser gels can be used in addition to hand washing, but they only work on clean hands. They should never be used as a substitute to hand washing.
- If possible, try to minimise direct hand contact with food by using tongs and utensils. Gloves can be used to minimise direct contact with food. However, gloves can become contaminated with bacteria in the same way as hands so are not a substitute for good personal hygiene and hand washing.
Health Protection Scotland has also published advice on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the workplace. This includes:
- routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched objects and surfaces (e.g. door handles, tables),
- promoting hand hygiene by making sure that staff, contractors, service users and visitors have access to hand washing facilities and providing alcohol based hand rub in prominent places,
- ensuring any crockery and cutlery in shared kitchen areas is cleaned with warm general purpose detergent and dried thoroughly before being stored for re-use, and
- avoiding leaving food stuffs (e.g. crisps, open sandwiches) exposed and open for communal sharing unless individually wrapped.
Businesses should consider the need to take precautionary measures when serving uncovered food in open environments such as buffets and self-service catering. Where it is not possible to do so, and a food product could be affected, you should follow our withdrawals and recalls guidance.
Effective hand washing involves the following steps:
- Wet your hands
- Add soap to both hands
- Rub your hands together
- Cover your hands with soap
- Clean between fingers
- Rinse all the soap off
- Dry your hands completely
It should take about as long to wash your hands as it does to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
Watch our video on how to carry out effective hand washing