‘SARS-CoV-2 is not a direct food safety concern…’ Neither food nor food packaging is a pathway for the spread of COVID-19,’ says FAO

The guidance​ – which updates interim guidance issued by the FAO in April 2020 – notes that coronaviruses cannot multiply in food or on inanimate surfaces, only in humans and certain animals.

Moreover, once in the environment, viruses degrade and becomes less infectious, says the guidance: “It is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging (Goldman, 2020​; ICMSF, 2020​; NZFSSRC, 2020​). Evidence to date does not indicate that food or food packaging is an important pathway for the spread of human respiratory illnesses, including SARS-CoV-2.

“COVID-19 is primarily transmitted during close contact among people through respiratory droplets and aerosols generated by activities such as coughing, sneezing, shouting, singing and speaking (WHO, 2020a​). Alternatively, some respiratory droplets may land on surfaces surrounding the infected person.”

Studies into viability of COVID-19 on food surfaces should be ‘interpreted with caution’

Several papers have described the persistence of the SARS-CoV-2 on different surfaces, documenting that it can remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to four hours on copper, and up to 24 hours on cardboard (see van Doremalen, Bushmaker et al., 2020​). Others have investigated the stability of the virus on surfaces kept at different temperatures or varying other parameters (see Kumar, Singh et al., 2021​).

While such investigations add to our understanding of the persistence and survivability of COVID-19, however, “they have typically been conducted under laboratory conditions, with controlled relative humidity, temperature and other factors, and should therefore be interpreted with caution when considering virus stability under actual conditions of the often cool (or freezing) and humid food processing and transportation environment,” ​notes the guidance.

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