COVID-19 and the Food Supply

Mar 20, 2020

We’ve had a few questions on the food supply and COVID-19. How should I shop for food? Can I have food delivered? Now that a lot of us are sheltering at home, we thought we’d give our perspective on this. As a small business owner I am sensitive to the challenges facing our local business partners. If you typically eat out once or twice a week, please continue to support local businesses so they can survive this unprecedented economic downturn.

That being said, we’d prefer that people over the age of 65 not leave the home at all. Can you have someone shop for you? Can you get food delivered? If this is a challenge for you, please let one of the Harper Health team members know and we’ll see what we can do to help you. There are groups of young people volunteering to do chores for those who can’t or shouldn’t do it for themselves.

For those of you not over the age of 65 it’s okay to go shopping for food but you need to consider social distancing. What that means is that you go directly to the store and not let anyone within your six foot bubble. The moment you leave your home and touch something outside your home consider your hands dirty and that they have SARS-CoV-2 on them. Remember, the virus does not go through the skin. It does not jump from your hands into your mouth or nose. You have to transfer it from your hands to your face. So, if you have hand sanitizer bring it with you and if you have to touch your face, sanitize your hands first.

Once you’re done with your shopping, wash your hands.

Do I need to stock up on food?
Just like with our toilet paper, we don’t need to be hoarding our food supply. It’s probably a good idea to have a week or two of food on hand so you don’t have to go back and forth to the store. You should get that can support you if you do get sick. This report from NPR is a good guide. The less you have to go out to the store, the better.

Can the food be contaminated with SARS-CoV-2?
A good resource for this is the FDA. I’ll try and summarize here, but the FDA has the most up-to-date resources. COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness. You can’t get COVID-19 by eating contaminated food, as you can get norovirus, salmonella, or e-coli. Food is free from COVID-19 and cannot infect you.
What about fresh food? Could someone with COVID-19 have coughed on the can of beans or transferred the virus from their hands to the fruit I’m buying? We should always wash our produce when we bring it home. If you do this, you will be fine. For the boxes and cans, I would use one of the approved cleaning solutions to wash the outside of these products before getting them in your refrigerator or on your shelf. Keep in mind, many of these cleaning products are not food safe, so make sure the container is dry before you open it.

What about food that is delivered or take-out?
This is a good question. The food, itself, is fine. You can’t get sick from eating food that you got from a restaurant. However, the person preparing it and putting it into the to-go box could be sick. You just don’t know. How to best protect yourself? Again, when you receive the food in a bag or box, assume that your hands are dirty and have SARS-CoV-2 on them. Bring the food into the house and transfer it onto a plate that you know is clean – came out of YOUR sink or dishwasher. Once you put the food onto a plate or bowl, throw out the containers and….WASH YOUR HANDS.

I hope this answers some of your questions about food. If you have others, let us know.

More to come.
Dr. Will

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