Food Safety Mythbusting During COVID-19
Background: During this time of uncertainty caused by COVID-19, Feed the Future understands the critical role that food safety plays in addressing food insecurity and malnutrition. This mythbusting fact sheet is intended to address misinformation we have encountered surrounding food safety in the time of this pandemic. It is important for USAID, our implementing partners and local partners and beneficiaries to work together to dispel the misinformation being circulated to ensure our target populations have access to a safe and nutritious diet.
Myth #1: I should avoid purchasing or consuming food handled by others as it may be contaminated with coronavirus.
Fact: Coronavirus is not transmitted through the consumption of food. Consuming perishable foods like fruits, vegetables and animal-source foods do not pose a risk for transmission and remain critical to nutritious diets. It is also highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food packaging.(1) COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and transmission is primarily spread through person-to-person contact or through direct contact with respiratory droplets. In fact, many food groups provide critical micronutrients that are essential to boost the immune system to fight infectious diseases. However, it remains important to properly handle, store and process fresh produce and animal products to avoid foodborne illness (e.g., don’t mix fresh produce with uncooked meat or poultry). Bottom line: Fresh produce and animal-source foods are essential for nutritious diets, especially among pregnant and lactating women and children 6-23 months, so do not avoid them. Follow the CDC guidelines or partner government guidelines (depending on country) to stay safe, but don’t avoid purchasing and consuming food safely.
Myth #2: I should avoid handling and consuming livestock, poultry and their products (meat, eggs, milk) to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Fact: There is no evidence that handling or consuming livestock plays a significant role in spreading the COVID-19 virus. Although the first cases of COVID-19 were linked to a live animal market, the virus is now spreading from person to person.(2) Meat, dairy and eggs are critical for maintaining nutritious diets. Producers and family farmers should not only continue to handle livestock and poultry, but also consume the nutritious products that they produce.
Myth #3: Fresh food markets should be avoided as they are a possible source of COVID-19.
Fact: Fresh food markets, which sell products like fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood in an open-air or partially open environment, are common around the world and serve as a source of nutritious food for significant portions of the global population (in some cases upwards of 90 percent of food consumed). COVID-19 is not considered a foodborne disease, but transmission may have originated in a food market due to improper food safety practices including the close proximity of wildlife, humans, and other fresh food sources. Awareness of poor hygiene and biosafety practices at these kinds of markets and along wildlife supply chains that contribute to the spillover, amplification, and spread of zoonotic diseases can help prevent future disease spillovers. Although the etiology of COVID-19 is still being researched, it is clear that fresh food markets observing proper food safety practices will not serve as a source of transmission of the virus. Proper management of and access to both formal and informal markets with appropriate social distancing, face covers, hygiene facilities, and separation between fresh produce and animal-source foods are critical steps to ensure continued safe access to nutritious food, reductions in disease transmission and the prevention of future outbreaks.
To learn more about our food safety efforts, especially in response to dynamic pandemic-related disruptions to food systems to protect food security and nutrition, check out this blog post.
- World Health Organization & Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2020). COVID-19 and food safety: guidance for food businesses: interim guidance, 07 April 2020. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/331705. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO
- “COVID-19 and Animals.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.