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Coronavirus questions and answers

Answers to some commonly asked questions in relation to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Please see below answers to questions that you might have in relation to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and food. 

Updated 09 August 2021

Consumers

  1. Can I catch coronavirus (COVID-19) from food?
  2. Can I catch coronavirus (COVID-19) from food packaging? 
  3. Can I catch coronavirus (COVID-19) from unwashed fruit and vegetables?
  4. If I am required to self-isolate, how long can I store food?
  5. Is it OK to cook meals in advance and make use of leftovers?
  6. I have been looking at other ways of sourcing my food supplies. Is it ok to buy food from people selling door to door?
  7. Is it safe to eat imported foods?

 

Consumers

1. Can I get coronavirus (COVID-19) from food?

There is currently no evidence that food is a source of coronavirus (COVID-19) and it is very unlikely that it can be transmitted through the consumption of food, according to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). 

Coronavirus is not a foodborne gastrointestinal virus like norovirus (also known as the winter vomiting bug) which causes illness through eating contaminated food.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and the transmission route of COVID-19 is thought to occur mainly through direct contact with respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

It is possible for COVID-19 to be spread indirectly when someone touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their mouth or nose, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Thorough and frequent handwashing will further reduce any risk of spreading COVID-19 indirectly through contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.

Following infection prevention and control guidance published by Health Protection Scotland and NHS Inform will help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the handling and preparation of food. Also, based on what we know about similar coronaviruses, the virus would be inactivated through proper cooking and would be removed from food preparation surfaces by thorough cleaning and disinfection.

Whilst food is not considered to be a source or transmission route for COVID-19 it’s always important to follow the four key steps of food safety—cooking, cleaning, chilling and preventing cross contamination – to reduce the risks of all foodborne illness. 

Read further advice on food safety in the home

Download NHS Inform handwashing posters: 

2. Can I catch coronavirus (COVID-19) from food packaging?

Indirect contact with COVID-19 through touching a surface or object that has the virus on it is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. However, thorough and frequent hand washing will help to minimise the potential for indirectly spreading the virus from any surfaces that may have become exposed, including packaged and unpackaged foods. It should be noted that hygienic handling of food is important to prevent the transmission of any bacterial or viral infection – not just COVID-19.

It is advised to wash your hands thoroughly after handling food deliveries or unpacking your food and drink at home on returning from the supermarket. Try not to touch your face while you are unpacking the products and disposing of any outer packaging.

3. Can I catch COVID-19 from unwashed fruit and veg?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging.

However it is always important to follow good hygiene and preparation practices when handling and eating raw fruit, leafy salads and vegetables which have not been pre-washed. Wash in a basin of clean water or under the tap to remove any contamination on the surface. You should not use soap or disinfectant when washing food. Peeling the outer layers or skins of certain fruits and vegetables can also help to remove surface contamination.

4. If I have to self-isolate, how long can I store food?

You should always check date marks on food.

‘Use by’ dates show the date after which food is no longer safe to eat. You cannot smell or see food poisoning bacteria, so the ‘sniff test’ is not a good way to check. ‘Best before’ dates refer to the quality of the food rather than safety. Stock control marks such as ‘sell by’ dates are not intended for consumers and businesses are encouraged not to use them alongside either a ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date on food labels.

We always urge consumers to follow the information on food labels to help reduce the risks of becoming unwell from food poisoning

5. Is it OK to cook meals in advance and make use of leftovers?

If you have leftover food, you should cool it down as quickly as possible (ideally within one to two hours) and store it in the fridge until you are ready to eat it. Leftovers can also be frozen but should be used within one to two days after being defrosted. Don’t reheat leftover foods more than once, and when reheating them, ensure the food is steaming hot all the way through.

Read more information on food safety.

6. I have been looking at other ways of buying food. Is it ok to buy food from people selling door to door?

Food Standards Scotland advice is never to deal with cold callers selling food at the door, especially those offering to supply fish, poultry and meat. We would advise consumers to only purchase food from established supermarkets and local food stores and suppliers which are open for business.

We are aware of incidents involving allegations of aggressive sales tactics by disreputable suppliers selling food which is mis-described and of a poor quality and hygiene standard.

If you are approached by someone selling food on your doorstep or have any concerns about the sale of food from an unknown supplier, you should contact your Local Authority Environmental Health Department or report it to Food Standards Scotland’s Food Crime Hotline (0800 028 7926).

7. Is it safe to eat imported foods?

Based on the currently available evidence, the risk of imported food and packaging from affected countries being contaminated on arrival into the UK is considered to be very low. This is because the legislation requires appropriate controls to be in place to ensure good hygienic practices are followed by the exporter during the packing and shipping process.

 

Additional Resources 

Public Health England has also produced guidance for food businesses on COVID-19.

The European Commission has published Q&A on COVID-19 and Food Safety.

Food Standards Agency has produced food safety and hygiene guidance for food businesses to operate safely during COVID-19.

The Institute of Food Science and Technology has developed a COVID-19 Knowledge Hub.

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