With reports of grocery shoppers continuing to sanitize the packaging of their food items a year into the pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have released an update underscoring that the risk of catching the virus causing COVID-19 through contact with food or food packaging is exceedingly low.
According to a statement from Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs – FDA Janet Woodcock, M.D.: "Our confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply remains steadfast. Consumers should be reassured that we continue to believe, based on our understanding of currently available reliable scientific information, and supported by overwhelming international scientific consensus, that the foods they eat and food packaging they touch are highly unlikely to spread SARS-CoV-2,” the virus that causes COVID-19.
Woodcock went on to note that “considering the more than 100 million cases of COVID-19, we have not seen epidemiological evidence of food or food packaging as the source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to humans. Furthermore, transmission has not been attributed to food products or packaging through national and international surveillance systems. Food business operations continue to produce a steady supply of safe food following current Good Manufacturing Practices and preventive controls, focusing on good hygiene practices and keeping workers safe.”
The Netherlands-based International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods agrees, having observed: "Despite the billions of meals and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 resulting in COVID-19."
Woodcock also points out that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that's spread from person to person, unlike foodborne or gastrointestinal viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A, that often make people ill through contaminated food.
In fact, norovirus is one of the top five common foodborne illnesses. It’s a serious concern in foodservice settings, where ill workers are directly handling food prepared for consumers. Last year, Newport Beach, California-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. agreed to pay a $25 million criminal fine stemming from its norovirus outbreaks that sickened more than 1,100 people across the United States from 2015 to 2018.
Working off scientific information made available over the course of the pandemic, the USDA and FDA continue to be confident in the safety of the food available to American consumers and exported to international customers.