The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission (EC) have published separate guidance documents for the food industry regarding safety during the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO guidance [pdf] is directed explicitly to food businesses to highlight “additional measures so that the integrity of the food chain is maintained, and that adequate and safe food supplies are available for consumers.”
“Keeping all workers in the food production and supply chains healthy and safe is critical to surviving the current pandemic,” the organization says in the guidance. “Maintaining the movement of food along the food chain is an essential function to which all stakeholders along the food chain need to contribute.
In early March, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stated that there is “currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus.” The new guidance from WHO reaffirms that finding but reveals that recent research has shown that the COVID-19 virus can remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to four hours on copper, and up to 24 hours on cardboard. Therefore, the organization is strongly advising that the food industry “reinforce personal hygiene measures and provide refresher training on food hygiene principles to eliminate or reduce the risk of food surfaces and food packaging materials becoming contaminated with the virus from food workers.”
WHO also advises companies to use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, and promote physical distancing and stringent hygiene and sanitation measures. “These measures will protect staff from spreading COVID-19 among workers, maintain a healthy workforce, and detect and exclude infected food handlers and their immediate contacts from the workplace,” says WHO.
On the heels of the WHO guidance, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Food Safety published a Q&A document [pdf] on April 8 to provide answers to key questions surrounding the coronavirus and food safety. The document examines the risk of infection through food, the impact on food production, and how food in retail stores and at home is affected. The document also provides links to recommendations from each EU member state and information from EFSA, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and WHO.