IFT Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates

As a non-profit dedicated to bringing together the global food community, the safety and security of our community is of utmost importance to IFT and something we take very seriously. We would like to extend our sincere concern and support to our members, friends, colleagues, partners, exhibitors, and peer organizations who have been impacted by the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) health emergency.

This is a complicated and evolving situation that IFT continues to monitor closely through several resources including local, national, and international public health department and agency sources. We will use the most up-to-date information gathered to inform any decisions related to upcoming programming.

Below is recent content and resources developed through IFT's volunteer experts, staff, and special guests to assist you in navigating these challenging times. Be sure to check back as we will continue to update this page as new content gets developed.

Institute of Food Science and Technology (UK), Institute of Food Technologists (US), and South African Association of Food Science and Technology have joined forces to make available the most reliable, independent, and practical COVID-19 content. Visit each organizations website to view free resources specifically provided to help support businesses and consumers during these unprecedented times. 

Institute of Food Science and Technology (UK)

Institute of Food Technologists (US)

South African Association of Food Science and Technology

Use the hashtag #foodtechduringCOVID when searching for this content on your social media channels.

In response to campuses moving to online instruction due to the COVID-19 health emergency, IFT is curating online teaching resources and is making them available to support our food science academic community.

Access Teaching Online Resources

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions and Resources

IFT has assembled the following FAQs based on questions received from our community related to recent Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) developments. We have developed this resource page to assist you in providing helpful information about food safety related to COVID-19 to friends, family, and the community at large. As this is an evolving situation, we will continue to update this page as more information becomes available.

Note: The illness caused by the virus is called COVID-19 and the virus name is SARS-CoV-2.
Last update March 18, 2020

Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly developing situation affecting many components of our economy and healthcare system. Current recommendations by public health authorities (e.g. World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Food and Drug Administration) focus on mitigating risk to individuals and medical personnel. Core to the food system infrastructure are routine measures, requirements, and regulations in place for maintaining clean and sanitized facilities, food contact surfaces, and addressing food safety. Such measures include Current Good Manufacturing Practices, food safety plans that include hazards analysis, and risk-based preventive controls.

Q: As an organization, what is IFT doing to address COVID-19 containment?
A: We are currently requiring that all employees work from home and have restricted all business-related travel, domestic and international, so that employees are able to practice social distancing as suggested by public health agencies. We are also working on transitioning in person learning opportunities to virtual experiences.

Food Safety

Q: Can COVID-19 be transmitted to humans through food?
A: As of now, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and US Food and Drug Administration has reported that there is “currently no evidence that food or food packaging is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus [SARS-CoV-2].” There continues to be research into the epidemiology and pathogenesis of the virus as this is a rapidly developing situation.

Q: Can COVID-19 be transmitted by a food worker handling your food?
A: Anyone handling, preparing and serving food should always follow safe food handling procedures, such as washing hands and surfaces often.  Because the transmissibility of COVID-19 from contaminated environmental surfaces and objects is not fully understood, employers should carefully evaluate whether or not work areas occupied by people suspected to have virus may have been contaminated and whether or not they need to be decontaminated in response.

Q: Where can one find information about hygienic best practices for employees working in food manufacturing environments?
A: Refer to the FDA’s Novel Coronavirus frequently asked questions webpage for information related to food products for the general public, and links to more specific information for other audiences (e.g., food industry)

The following FAQs have been excerpted from FDA’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions and  USDA Food Safety FAQs

Q: Is food imported to the United States from China and other countries affected by COVID-19 at risk of spreading COVID-19?
A: Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.

Q: Can I get sick with COVID-19 from touching food, the food packaging, or food contact surfaces, if the coronavirus was present on it?
A: Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19, so there is no reason to be concerned. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Q: A worker in my food processing facility/farm has tested positive for COVID-19.  What steps do I need to take to ensure that the foods I produce are safe?
A: COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality.  Sick employees should follow the CDC’s What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Employers should consult with the local health department for additional guidance.

While the primary responsibility in this instance is to take appropriate actions to protect other workers and people who might have come in contact with the ill employee, facilities should also re-double their cleaning and sanitation efforts to control any risks that might be associated with workers who are ill regardless of the type of virus or bacteria. For example, facilities are required to maintain clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces.

See also: FSMA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food.

More information about how the virus spread is available from the CDC: (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html).

Food Industry

The food system has in place local, state, and federal regulations, as well as industry best practices, to address, mitigate, and prevent microbial contamination of food products. The recommendations by public health authorities have concentrated on what individuals can do to reduce their risk, namely hand washing a,nd social distancing, and guidance for medical personnel responding to the pandemic. Given that there is no evidence of foodborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the FDA and other food regulators have not issued specific recommendations that depart from existing industry food safety methods.

Q: Has COVID-19 had an impact on global food supply chains?
A: COVID-19 has influenced unusual shifts in demand of certain Consumer Packaged Goods, referred to as “panic buying.” Additionally, social distancing and other public health measures have dampened manufacturing output. As of March 16, 2020, food supply chains remain largely operational despite increased demand from consumers.  Businesses across the food supply chain are activating their established business continuity plans and are actively adjusting manufacturing and distribution plans to meet the increased consumer demand.

Q: Will there be food shortages?
A: The FDA has indicated “there are no nationwide shortages of food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock. Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the United States and no widespread disruptions have been reported in the supply chain.”

FDA is closely monitoring the food supply chain for any shortages in collaboration with industry and our federal and state partners.
See: FDA Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Q: Where should the food industry go for guidance about business operations? 
A: In addition to seeking guidance for the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, food facilities, like other work establishments, should also follow protocols set by local and state health departments, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a particular area. We encourage coordination with local health officials for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where they have operations.

See also: FDA Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Q: Do I need to recall food products produced in the facility during the time that the worker was potentially shedding virus while working?
A: The FDA has expressed that they “do not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market because of COVID-19, as there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food or food packaging.”

Additionally, “facilities are required to control any risks that might be associated with workers who are ill regardless of the type of virus or bacteria. For example, facilities are required to maintain clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces.”

See: FDA Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Q: Many restaurants have scaled back the number of diners they are accommodating and/or are being required to close by local and state agencies in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease. Do you have any thoughts on the efficacy of this?  
A: It is now recommended by the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force that all citizens practice social distancing. This includes not going out to eat. Some national and state governments (including Illinois, where IFT is headquartered) have closed all dine-in restaurants and bars to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing measures in South Korea and China appear to have been effective in reducing the incidence of cases.

Helpful Resources