NEWS

Can COVID-19 Be Transmitted Through Food?

Man grocery shopping wearing a mask and holding bananas.

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Key Takeaways

  • According to the CDC, there is no evidence that suggests that COVID-19 can be spread through the handling or consumption of food.
  • Because COVID-19 is an enveloped virus, the virus will die outside of the body, making the transmission of COVID-19 through food highly unlikely.
  • It's best to avoid indoor dining, prepare your food at home, and wash your hands and produce.

Last week, more than 29,000 cartons of ice cream were recalled in China due to ice cream boxes contaminated with COVID-19. These reports have sounded some alarms on whether COVID-19 could be contracted through food. 

“Direct person-to-person contact is the most common form of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, [the virus that causes COVID-19],” Sanjeev Jain, MD, PhD, board-certified allergist and immunologist at Columbia Allergy, tells Verywell. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence to suggest that the handling or consumption of food is associated with COVID-19.

Because COVID-19 is an enveloped virus—a virus that contains an additional covering usually derived and modified from the membranes of the host—it will die once outside the body.

“As an enveloped virus, SARS-CoV-2 is highly unstable outside of the host and will die off quickly on foods,” Martin Wiedmann, PhD, Gellert family professor in food safety at Cornell University in New York, tells Verywell. “Foods extremely rarely test positive even for viral genetic materials...So far, the only reports of contaminated food are coming from Asia and even these reports typically report the presence of virtual genetic material and not the live virus."

AP News reported that China’s National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment Center found a positivity rate for tests on packages that was 0.48 per 10,000. The positivity rate is the percentage of all tests performed that are actually positive. “The number of positive samples in these reports are very low,” Wiedmann says. "There is absolutely no reason to worry about food-borne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” 

What This Means For You

Although COVID-19 transmission through food is highly unlikely, it is still best to practice good hand hygiene. If you are preparing meals at home, wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before handling the food. If you are thinking about dining outside of your home, consider making a meal at home or ordering takeout instead to avoid contact with other people. 

COVID-19 on Food

According to Wiedmann, although cooler temperatures slow the inactivation of COVID-19, this does not mean that frozen foods should be a concern. Inactive viruses cannot multiply or cause the disease they were intended to create. 

“Frozen foods rarely test positive," Wiedmann says. "And even if a live virus were present, it would be susceptible to being inactivated by the stomach acid."

According to Jain, viruses are unable to survive at higher temperatures. The rate of inactivation of viruses increases with temperature. “The virus would be unlikely to survive on foods that have been prepared using heat through methods such as baking, boiling, sauteing, and microwaving,” Jain says. 

Martin Wiedmann, PhD

The number of positive samples in these reports are very low. There is absolutely no reason to worry about food-borne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

— Martin Wiedmann, PhD

Staying Safe

COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through inhaling the respiratory droplets of infected individuals. If you are eating at a restaurant, you are more likely to contract COVID-19 from either workers or other diners. “A person may be more likely to contract the virus if they are consuming meals at restaurants where close person-to-person contact is occurring,” Jain explains.

Although transmission through objects such as food is an unlikely source of transmission, Jain recommends you continue practicing good sanitary practices. “It is best to practice good hand hygiene especially after going to public locations like the grocery store, eat at least six feet away from others outside of the household, wear a mask, and stay home and keep your distance from others if you are not feeling well," he says.

“Direct transmission through respiratory droplets is the main transmission pathway,” Wiedmann says. “Therefore, our undivided attention must be focused on preventing person to person transmission and not be distracted by a theoretical and infinitesimally small risk of foodborne transmission.” 

Because direct person-to-person contact is the most common form of COVID-19 transmission, Jain suggests you:

  • Remain six feet away from others outside of your household while eating 
  • Wash your hands before eating or preparing food 
  • Consume food and drinks at home or in a location from other people
  • As a precautionary measure, wash produce and fully cook meat products

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food and Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Updated December 31, 2020. 

  2. AP News. Chinese city reports coronavirus found on ice cream. Updated January 16, 2021.

  3. John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. COVID-19 Testing: Understanding the “Percent Positive". Updated August 10, 2020.