While there is no evidence that food or food packaging are significant transmission pathways for Covid-19, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of contamination.
Speaking about the topic, Otago University experts, Professor Phil Bremer, Dr Catherine McLeod, Dr Joanne Kingsbury and Dr Rob Lake say that despite billions of meals having been transported around the world and consumed since the start of the pandemic, there is no definitive evidence that food or food packaging has been a source or a transmission route for SARS-CoV-2.
Although significant Covid-19 outbreaks have occurred at food processing facilities overseas, the primary cause of these outbreaks is believed to be due to person-to-person transmission, which has been facilitated by the enclosed nature of the work environment, rather than exposure of workers to contaminated food or packaging material.
While a number of studies have investigated the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to survive and remain infective on food, packaging material or other surfaces, the majority of studies have tested the food or surface with far higher concentrations of virus than could be reasonably expected to be naturally deposited by infectious people sneezing. Survival over time has then been assessed under conditions that have generally not reflected natural scenarios.
Nevertheless, when added to foods, SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious for varying periods of time, dependent on the properties of the food (pH) and the storage conditions (temperature, relative humidity).
There are however, four important take home points to consider when assessing the potential role of food in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The first is that studies which have attempted to try to replicate natural fresh produce contamination scenarios by using low levels of aerosolised SARS-CoV-2 or the handling of produce by Covid-19 infected people, have not resulted in infectious SARSCoV-2 subsequently being detected on the produce.
Second, normal cooking or the application of heat during food processing will inactivate the virus.
Third, if SARS-CoV-2 did get on to food, and this food was subsequently consumed before the virus was inactivated it is believed that normal intestinal tract conditions (stomach acid and bile salts) would inactivate the virus.
Fourth, infection by SARS-CoV-2 occurs principally via inhalation of aerosolised virus particles.
These four points provide a clear rationale as to why food is unlikely to be a vector or transmission route for SARS-CoV-2.
The risk of SARS-CoV-2 being spread from contaminated food packaging is also considered to be very low.
Companies can best protect people, products and packaging by ensuring there is good ventilation, appropriate PPE use, the use of screens, strong workplace bubbles and social distancing, and that there is strict adherence to good hygiene practices.