COVID-19 and Food Safety

COVID-19 and Food Safety

COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus, is a respiratory disease. Current evidence suggests that transmission of COVID-19 occurs primarily through the respiratory droplets of infected people, which are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings. These respiratory droplets can reach the eyes, nose or mouth of a susceptible person directly or indirectly (via contaminated surfaces), resulting in infection. Airborne transmission of the virus can occur in health care settings where aerosol-generating procedures are performed. While there have been limited reports of airborne transmission outside of health care settings internationally, its role and extent are under further study.

SFA is aware of reports from Chinese authorities on detecting the nucleic acid (genetic material) of the COVID-19 virus in some food and food packaging imported from various countries. We are also aware of experimental studies on the potential survival of the COVID-19 virus on various types of food under laboratory conditions.

According to updated guidance on 2 August 2021 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), current data indicate that neither food nor food packaging is a pathway for the spread of viruses causing respiratory illnesses, including SARS-CoV-2.

It is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food or on inanimate surfaces; they can only multiply in humans and certain animals. Once in the environment, viruses degrade and become less infectious. SFA will continue to monitor developments closely, evaluate new scientific evidence, and promptly take any necessary actions to safeguard food safety in Singapore.

The environment that we interact with can be contaminated with the COVID-19 virus. Hence, there is a possibility of fomite transmission when the mucosa of the eyes, nose or mouth of individuals come into contact with contaminated surfaces. Contact with food, food packaging or food contact materials is no different from contact with other surfaces and the environment (e.g. common touch surfaces such as lift buttons, door knobs, etc). Ultimately, the COVID-19 virus is transmitted primarily by people. What is important to reduce the risk of infections of COVID-19 due to contact with any contaminated surfaces or infected persons is to adopt good public and personal hygiene practices. These include:

  • Seeking medical attention promptly and staying home if unwell;
  • Washing hands with soap and water regularly, including before eating or handling food and after going to the toilet;
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands;
  • Covering mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing/sneezing, and throwing the tissue away into a bin immediately; and
  • Not sharing food/drinks with others.
In addition, SFA continues to emphasise that people preparing foods should observe the following:
  • Do not engage in any food handling/preparation if unwell;
  • Cooking food thoroughly;
  • Keeping hot food above 60°C;
  • Wash hands with soap and water regularly and use clean disposable gloves when handling food;
  • Wash fruits and vegetables with clean water;
  • Store and handle raw and cooked/ready-to-eat food separately;
  • Cover food properly to prevent contamination; and
  • Maintain frequent washing and sanitising of all food contact surfaces, and touchpoints including counter tops, utensils, and condiment containers.
The guidelines for environmental cleaning and disinfection are available on NEA’s website.

See also