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COVID-19 Food Safety and Sanitation FAQs

1.       Is COVID-19 likely to be transferred from food, including fresh produce, or water?

As of now, there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is transferred by food. According to United Fresh Produce Association, the CDC and FDA have not made a definitive statement regarding transmission, but the Food Safety Authority in Ireland concluded that there was no evidence to support foodborne transmission. Food manufacturers and produce growers, especially for commodities for which skin-to-produce contact occurs during harvest, should continue to follow the same practices they already use to reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens as they will also be effective against COVID-19. This includes sending sick workers home, frequent hand washing and glove use, and wearing clean clothing and appropriate Proper Protection Equipment to work.

2.       What sanitizers can be used against COVID-19?

       Several sanitizers are effective against the virus. If a product’s label says it is effective against coronaviruses or norovirus (which is generally a more difficult virus to `inactivate), it should be effective against COVID-19. Always follow the EPA label for instructions concerning contact time, concentration, and appropriate surfaces for use.

      List of EPA sanitizers:

Bleach (Sodium hypochlorite, Clorox), 70% isopropyl alcohol in 30% water, povodine iodine and Lysol are all active against coronavirus on non-porous surfaces. Bleach may be mixed at rate of 1/3 – 1/2 cup to 1 gallon of water to disinfect surfaces (with a contact time of 10 minutes). When used on food contact surfaces, a potable water rinse should be used to remove excess chlorine after the appropriate contact time. Keep in mind this product will stain some materials, especially at higher concentrations.Studies with Povidone Iodine (4% and 7.5%) in a skin cleanser and surgical scrub inactivated similar members of the coronavirus family (SARS-coV and MERS-coV) within 15 seconds. An optimal exposure time of 2 min was suggested.

      Washing clothing and bedding with detergent in hot water (~140 °F) is the most effective way to inactivate the virus as sanitizers are not effective on these surfaces.  Use gloves and extreme caution when handling clothing or bedding used by COVID positive or suspected positive individuals.

Products that are not EPA labeled may not be effective against viruses and may be hazardous to humans and animals. Many individuals are resorting to homemade sanitizers, including products containing essential oils. Essential oils are skin, mucous membrane, and eye irritants, and many are toxic to our pets. Extreme caution should be used when applying these, either directly on surfaces or via aerosolization, around people or animals as serious complications do occur.

3.       How do I properly sanitize against COVID-19?

Sanitizing is a multi-step process. First, surfaces with visible soil should be wiped clean, either with a clean, damp cloth, paper towel, or wipe. A soap may be applied for surfaces with significant soil, and then wiped or rinsed off. Once a surface dries, a sanitizer may be applied and should be allowed to AIR DRY. Sanitizers require 5-10 minutes of contact time to inactivate microorganisms, so immediately wiping the surface will not allow sufficient time for virucidal activity. Wipes, including Clorox Wipes, are useful for cleaning, but as the surface treated does not remain wet for more than few seconds, are not likely very useful as sanitizers. If spraying surfaces with sanitizer, it’s considered polite to warn other individuals in the shared space as to why the door handles are wet.

4.       Can I use hand sanitizer instead of washing my hands?

Hand sanitizer is not effective on its own against bacteria and viruses on the skin. When applied to unwashed hands, the sanitizer is absorbed by dirt and dead skin cells and is unable to contact microorganisms on the skin surface. Washing hands for 20 seconds under soap and water is the most effective way to remove bacteria and viruses from hands. If desired, hand sanitizer may be applied after hands are dried to further reduce pathogens on hands. Hand sanitizer may also be used frequently between regular hand washing activities, or when there is no access to adequate hand washing facilities.
 5.       Am I likely to get COVID-19 from packages that are shipped to my house?

A study published this week found that the virus does not appear to remain longer than 24 hours on cardboard, but can survive up to three days on stainless steel or plastic. However, large quantities of the virus were used in these studies, and the quantity of the pathogen present on surfaces did diminish over time. For this reason, it appears that the likelihood of virus transmission from packages is likely low; however, as transmission of the virus from contaminated objects has been documented, individuals may consider sanitizing all items that are delivered or brought into the home and wash hands after handling boxes or shipments they receive.

This document was prepared by two University Specialists. If you have further questions please contact them at:

Laurel L. Dunn, Ph.D. Department of Food Science & Technology 
Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist

p: 706-542-0993 

Govindaraj Dev Kumar
Center for Food Safety | Assistant Professor 540-449-2527 |  |

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