COVID-19 – ANSES’s recommendations on food, shopping and cleaning
What precautions should I take when returning home from the shops? Does food need to be cooked to destroy the virus? Can I eat fruits and vegetables raw without any further preparation? ANSES examined the possibilities of the COVID-19 disease being transmitted via food, on the basis of the available scientific data. Here are our answers to the most frequently asked questions.
(ΑΝSES: French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety)
Can farm animals fall ill and infect us?
There is no evidence that farm animals, or the foods that are derived from them, play a role in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Any transmission via food would therefore only be possible if the food had been contaminated by a patient or person infected with the virus, when handling it with dirty hands or via infectious droplets produced when coughing or sneezing.
Can eating contaminated food make us sick?
There is currently no scientific evidence to suggest that the virus can infect us through the digestive tract. However, the possibility of the respiratory tract becoming infected when chewing contaminated food cannot be completely ruled out. If you are ill, you absolutely must avoid handling food and cooking for others.
How can the virus be removed from fruits and vegetables?
Fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly after purchase, or before eating or cooking them. Clean water is sufficient, never use disinfectant or detergents such as bleach, as they can be toxic if they are not rinsed properly. It is not necessary to use white vinegar to rinse fruits and vegetables. After washing with clean water, wiping the food with a single-use paper towel helps remove any viral particles. These steps are especially important if the fruits and vegetables are to be eaten raw.
Can I eat fruits and vegetables raw without any further preparation? Or do they need to be cooked?
As mentioned in the previous answer, it is important to wash fruits and vegetables in clean water. You can also peel them, as you do with apples or pears.
For vegetables, note that cooking at 63°C – i.e. over a medium heat – for four minutes is enough to destroy any virus potentially present. There is no point in “overcooking” your food, unless this is called for by the recipe or your personal taste! Washing raw vegetables with clean water is sufficient to reduce the risk of transmission through cross-contamination – i.e. the risk of the virus being spread by contact with hands.
Do these hygiene rules also apply to packaging?
Packaging may have been contaminated by dirty hands. Even though the virus causing the disease cannot survive in the open air for more than three hours, you can take additional precautions by cleaning the packaging. This should be wiped with a damp cloth or single-use paper towel. Bleach is not necessary. For foods that are kept in the refrigerator, remove the packaging before storage whenever possible. Obviously, hands must be washed thoroughly before and after handling this packaging.
Is white vinegar effective for cleaning packaging?
It is effective for killing bacteria but probably less so for viruses. Studies have shown that white vinegar is ineffective at getting rid of more resistant viruses.
What precautions should I take when returning home from the shops?
First, you need to wash your hands. As long as your groceries do not need to be kept cool, you can leave them to sit for two or three hours after taking them home. For products that need to go in the refrigerator, such as milk or yoghurts, remove the outer packaging and clean the products with damp paper towels before storing. Remember to wash your hands again immediately afterwards.
Is it better to re-heat your bread?
Bread is baked at a high temperature during preparation, which eliminates all traces of viruses. When hygiene rules have been followed in the bakery (hands washed regularly and/or gloves worn when serving, bread placed inside bags, etc.), there is no risk of virus transmission. It is not necessary to re-heat your bread if all hygiene precautions have been taken.
Can COVID-19 be contracted through contact with contaminated surfaces?
Some studies carried out under conditions that differ greatly from those in the home have shown that the virus remains active for varying durations on inert surfaces. It can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel. It remains detectable for 24 hours on cardboard under the same experimental conditions. The risk of coming into contact with the virus by handling objects that have been contaminated by a carrier cannot therefore be theoretically ruled out, but it is low. This is why it’s important to follow certain rules: do not touch your face while shopping, wash your hands when you get home, and wipe all packaging with a damp paper towel.
What is the best way to clean potentially contaminated surfaces?
Potentially contaminated surfaces can be cleaned using household products to remove all traces of the virus. For example, you can use 70°C alcohol, which is highly effective, to disinfect door handles and computer or tablet keyboards. If you use bleach, handle this product with care as it is highly oxidising and caustic to the skin, mucous membranes and other materials.
Because your telephone is in direct contact with your hands and face, it can be a major vector for transmission of the virus. You can disinfect a smartphone screen using disinfectant wipes or paper towels soaked in household alcohol.
Addition from Cyprus Committee on Environment and Children’s Health: Virologists recommend soaking fruits and vegetables in light soap water for 1 hour and then rinse very well. This offers greater safety in any conditions.
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