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COVID-19 and food safety: Fact and fiction for food production and disinfection

By Ruth Borger

LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — Consumers are being bombarded with tips for what to do with their groceries during the coronavirus crisis.  Leave them in the garage for three days? Wash the produce with soapy water? Wipe all packaging down with disinfecting wipes? There are a lot of myths out there right now giving people unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Listen to the science, say University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Food Science and Human Nutrition faculty. Food production safety measures secure the food supply.

“There is consistent agreement among the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19,” explained Michelle Danyluk,  UF/IFAS professor of food microbiology. “The FDA has also issued guidance that if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 they do not anticipate that food production would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market.” Consumers who have heard otherwise from unofficial sources should be able to find a good bit of anxiety relief in this guidance.

Danyluk and colleague Travis Chapin, a state specialized UF/IFAS Extension agent for food safety, work at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center. They advise that produce growers, harvesters, packers, and coolers should continue to follow the good hygiene practices they already have in place (e.g., washing hands and cleaning and sanitizing surface that may contact food or hands, often) as part of their food safety programs when handling produce.

They acknowledge that there has been some confusion about sanitation practices. FDA and CDC do not recommend any additional “disinfection” in food facilities beyond routine cleaning at this time due to concerns around COVID-19 (https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-frequently-asked-questions). The primary way to control Coronavirus infection is to prevent spread between people, including workers. Farms, harvesters, and coolers should continue their vigilance around general hygiene and food safety practices.

“Coronaviruses need a living host (human or animal) to grow in and cannot multiply on produce or on common touch or food contact surfaces,” explained Michelle Danyluk, professor of food microbiology.

Additional resources include:

The UF/IFAS EDIS link above includes factsheets directly related to produce production; please find additional information here:  https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FS/FS35100.pdf.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Brad Buck, 352-875-2641, bradbuck@ufl.edu

By: Ruth Borger, 517-803-7631, rborger@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)
is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make
that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than
a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty
in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions
to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS

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