Produce and Food Safety – What to Know Today
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease. COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplet dispersal when those carrying the virus cough or sneeze. The virus then may be transmitted to the mouth or nose of nearby people or may be inhaled into the lungs.
A physical distance of 6 or more feet can reduce this transmission as larger droplets continuing the virus fall out of the air. Close contact (such as shaking hands) is also involved in transmission, which is why physical distancing is critical and is working to reduce spread of the disease. If you have been close to another person of unknown health status it is important to avoid contact with your face as you may inadvertently bring the virus up to your face.
Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Coronaviruses need a living host (animal or human) to grow in and cannot grow in food. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects and then be transferred by a person touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Buying local helps our local growers stay in business. In a farm store or stand, the number of people that can be in the store and stand area should be limited to enable a physical separation of 6 feet and the stand managers have taken precautions to distance cashiers. CSA’s can create distances when produce is picked up as well. In U-pick operations, customers also need to be separated by at least 6 feet. In farmer’s markets vendors should be distanced from buyers. A practice in some markets is to have one employee pack the produce pointed out by the customer and another employee handling the payment transaction – all without compromising the separation distance.
Food companies of all sizes are focused largely on preventing aerosol or tactile (hands or surfaces)-based contamination of foods and trying to protect their workforce from infection, which in turn protects the food they come into contact with. Using the controls currently in place and mandated by federal, state, and local food safety and public health authorities remain the best approaches: adequate and frequent handwashing; prevention of bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods; surface cleaning and disinfection; and (uniquely), liberal use of hand sanitizers. Add to that social distancing and exclusion of ill or infected food workers.
Care and diligence doesn’t stop at the farm stand, it goes home with each of us. As always, follow good hygiene and food safety practices when preparing food:
• Purchase food from reputable sources
• Cook food thoroughly and maintain safe holding temperatures
• Use good personal hygiene
• Clean and sanitize surfaces and equipment
Remember that the biggest risk factor is being around other people, so reduce those interactions as much as possible. We all have to eat and food is low risk for transmitting this virus. Use of surface disinfectants and particularly, frequent handwashing and sanitizing is a useful protection. But really, your best protection is to put your efforts into the controls recommended by public health officials: i.e., limit your contact with other people and, when that is not possible, maintain social distance.