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Covid-19 food safety advice for the general public

Can Covid-19 (coronavirus) be passed on through food?

There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is passed on through food.

Coronaviruses need a host (animal or human) to grow in and cannot grow in food. Thorough cooking is expected to kill the virus. Read more information on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and food from the European Food Safety Authority.

Is there a risk to consumers from 'open' food?

As usual, it is important to maintain good hygiene practices around open food (e.g. unpackaged bread, cakes etc). However, it is possible that infected food workers and/or consumers could introduce the virus to food, by coughing and sneezing, or through hand contact. It is therefore important that everyone follows good personal hygiene practices. Customers and food businesses are expected to behave in a hygienic manner and food business are obliged to monitor such displays.

Even if people aren’t displaying symptoms, it is thought that people could be carrying the virus for up to 14 days before beginning to have symptoms, so it is important that everyone maintains good hygiene practices and hand washing. Food is not directly involved in the transmission of COVID-19. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. Hence the advice to public and staff alike is to wash your hands.

Can we donate food?

All supermarkets have donating boxes for vulnerable groups which can be used by customers.

We would suggest that members of the public avoiding preparing and cooking food items for donation.

Should you come across any new unrecognised food businesses/pop-up kitchens in the community please e-mail

Should food handlers in businesses be wearing gloves?

We are not encouraging food businesses to rely on the use of gloves (unless a food handler has a cut or injury). There is no substitute for regular and thorough handwashing.

Should I check the dates on the packaging of foods that I’ve bought?

As with all foods the “first in first out” rule applies, using the food with the shortest date first. This this can be helped by writing the durability date on the side of products in larger text.

Should I date food in the freezer?

  • Look at the packaging to check whether it is suitable for freezing and how long it should be frozen for. Ensure food is frozen before the use by or best before date
  • All foods should be adequately wrapped before placing them in the freezer and you may find it helpful to write on the food the date the food should be used by
  • Ensure all food is thoroughly defrosted before cooking, all food should be defrosted in the fridge ideally overnight
  • Leftovers from batch cooking can be frozen for up to 3 months. Ensure all food is cooled before placing in your freezer

What shelf life should be given to foods prepared at home?

Mark items that you freeze down with the date of freezing and use within three months. Make sure that you reheat foods thoroughly until they are piping hot.

What’s the difference between a Best Before Date (BBE) and Use By Date?

Watch out for use-by dates - these dates appear on foods which are likely to go off quickly. Once past the use-by date bacteria may have multiplied to levels that will make you feel ill if you then eat the food. Unlike use-by dates, best before dates are about food quality. Eating foods after the best-before date won’t make you ill but you may find that the food starts to lose its texture or flavour.

Should I accept food from doorstep sellers?

Some people could be taking advantage by selling foods at over inflated prices - it could be past its ‘use by date’ or it could be unsafe due to poor storage or production methods. Be wary and ask lots of questions. Ask if they are registered with the local authority and if so their business name? Have they got a refrigerated van? Is it in recognisable packaging? Are they a registered charity that told you they would be supplying you?

If you have any concerns surrounding doorsteps sellers, please contact the Citizens Advice helpline who will put you in touch with your Local Trading Standards team on 03444 111 444.

Charitable organisations could be arranging for food parcel deliveries. Please still check dates to ensure that any food provided to you is safe and don’t assume its ok. If refrigerated put it into the fridge straight away.

Its best to take delivery at the door and avoid direct contact with the person delivering it, wash and sanitise hands after handling the bag and dealing with the person.

For security and hygiene reasons prevent anyone who is delivering foods from entering your house. If you have been ill or someone in your house is symptomatic then you don’t want them to get ill and similarly you don’t want to catch anything from them. Covid-19 can incubate for up to 14 days before symptoms show so even if someone appears to be well they may still be carrying the virus.

I’ve bought lots of foods in case I need to isolate. How can I best manage this?

  • Check use by dates for food you have stored. Use the nearest ending dates first. Remember, use-by dates are in place for your protection regarding consumption of food
  • If you can freeze the food, make sure you freeze it before the use by date has passed
  • Mark the food when it has been frozen so you know how long it will have to be eaten safely after thawing
  • Keep food safe if stockpiling away from the house e.g. in your garage, ensure pests cant get to it and keep it dry and out of sunlight

Last updated: 19 March 2020

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