COVID-19 and Food Safety: Facts vs. Fiction

Ernie NeffFood Safety

town hall
COVID-19

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) experts want to help dispel a media-dispersed untruth about COVID-19. UF/IFAS scientists offering accurate information and food safety tips to the citrus industry about COVID-19 include Travis Chapin, Michelle Danyluk, Renee Goodrich Schneider and Keith Schneider.

According to the UF/IFAS scientists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say, “Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19,” including imported foods and materials. FDA has issued guidance that if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 they “do not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market.”

The UF/IFAS scientists blasted some false media reports about the alleged survival of COVID-19 on a variety of common surfaces, including reports of active viruses found on cruise ships after 17 days. “What has been found is the RNA contained in the virus, which does not cause infection,” the UF/IFAS scientists wrote. They added that the longest median half-life of coronavirus particles documented is 5.6 hours on stainless steel and 6.8 hours on plastic.

“The primary way to control coronavirus infection is to prevent spread between people, including workers,” the UF/IFAS scientists wrote. “Citrus growers, harvesters, packers and processors should continue their vigilance around general hygiene and food-safety practices. It is critical to ensure that workers who are not feeling well stay home, to reduce the risk of infecting other workers. During operation, employee separation and distancing should be maintained as much as possible. Review of cleaning and sanitation programs should determine if additional focus is needed to clean and sanitize common areas and touch points (e.g., door handles, restrooms, break rooms, transportation, etc.).”

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The UF/IFAS scientists pointed out that there have been several changes related to the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule in light of pressing concerns around the rapid and continued spread of COVID-19. For one, the FDA has suspended all routine inspections, including inspections conducted under contract at the state level. However, for-cause inspections and investigations will continue as needed.

“UF/IFAS and FDACS (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) have postponed all food-safety workshops and On-Farm Readiness Reviews at this time,” the UF/IFAS scientists reported.

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About the Author
Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large