Published 25 March 2020
This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report showing RNA from the virus that causes Covid-19 was found in the Princess Cruise ship 17 days after passengers were off the ship. This has prompted concerns about how long SARS-CoV-2 can live on surfaces, and what this means for food businesses that continue to operate during the COVID-19 crisis.
To address valid concerns about the safety of groceries and other items from food retail businesses, it is vital to understand a recent study by The New England Journal of Medicine. In this recent study, tests were performed to determine how long the virus can stably survive on different types of surfaces. The study was conducted within a controlled laboratory setting and the results determined the virus is detectable on:
The results show that the virus is particularly stable on plastic and steel, which are both common materials in food retail environments. This means that food businesses need to take extreme precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on these particular materials.
Food retail businesses, like grocery stores and supermarkets have been declared essential services by many countries as they try and grapple with what businesses to close. These food retail businesses must remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide their services while preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Establishments must increase their cleaning and sanitizing protocols, which includes sanitizing items that are cleaned but not normally sanitized. Steel objects throughout the business like railings, door handles, food preparation equipment and parts of checkouts should be cleaned and sanitized frequently — especially given the results of the study. The same goes for plastic items that are in high traffic areas and are frequently touched by staff or customers, such as shopping cart handles and credit card machines.
Many food service businesses, such as restaurants and fast food chains have been required by governments to switch to take-out or delivery services only in order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. For food businesses that continue to cook and serve food to the public through these means, increased cleaning and sanitizing is absolutely critical. These food businesses continue to have staff work in kitchens that often contain lots of steel equipment. Kitchens that are operating must clean and sanitize frequently, with particular attention being paid to steel equipment and appliances. Doing so can help reduce the risk of staff contracting or spreading COVID-19 within the premises. Plastic is also a common material in food businesses, so making sure to clean and sanitize frequently touched items by staff can help to kill the virus.
Food businesses in both retail and service have a vital role to play in the prevention of COVID-19. Understanding the materials that COVID-19 survives on for long periods — and how to kill the virus — are two ways that food business can do their part.