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Transmission of COVID-19 through food, food packages or even food handlers has not been identified as a risk factor for this illness. Always practice safe food preparation practices to avoid foodborne illness as well. Evidence suggests the virus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces.

Employee Health

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Each store should have policies and procedures in place for employee health and wellness. You should be sure that sick employees do not report to work and you should suggest they see a doctor. If you have a sick employee or guest, report it to the health department. If the health department is not responding, be persistent.

Educating your workforce is a critical part of your responsibility. Local and state regulations may address what you have to do and you should align with them. Absent the availability of a healthcare practitioner, it is not advisable to take an employee’s temperature as they report to work. Your policies, that have been clearly communicated should addresses employees refusing to come to work for fear of infection or refusing to serve a sick patron.

Cleaning and Disinfection

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Avoid wiping surfaces with water only; use a disinfectant. EPA recommended commercial disinfectants should be used on the following as often as is practical:

  • Tables, chairs, counter, handrails, etc.
  • All self-service surfaces, including: buffet / salad bar lines, shakers, bottles, condiments, etc.
  • Restroom surfaces, including: doorknobs, faucets, handles, etc.

Appropriate Disinfectants

  • CDC advises using compounds on the list of EPA recommended disinfectants, found at Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2. (Note: this is list is based on current data, but compounds have not been validated for COVID-19.)
  • Bleach may be used to disinfect surfaces, but the concentration is higher than for everyday sanitation: 5 tablespoons bleach per gallon of water.
  • Check with chemical suppliers to see if currently used compounds are on the list and if changes need to be made for them to be used effectively.
  • To use heat, run utensils or equipment through a commercial dishwasher that will heat to 145°F (65°C) or higher for five minutes or longer. Alternatively, hot water maintained at or above 145°F (65°C) can be used.

Considerations for Self Service Areas

Utensils in self-service areas should be changed as often as possible. Management should assess how frequently they are used and make decisions. Consider moving self-serve items like condiments and utensils to behind the employee counter to minimize contact, if possible.

Receiving Food and Food Packaging

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With decades of data related to influenza, another similar respiratory virus, there is no data to indicate that food distribution channels like grocery stores or distribution warehouses are transmission nodes. There is no history of a public health authority advise individuals to stop shopping for food at certain stores due to the risk of respiratory virus transmission. Currently, there is no data to suggest that accepting food from an area experiencing this illness is a risk factor for disease spread.

Continue routine operating procedures in evaluating the integrity of packaging as well as for any soil are already in place. Follow risk management practices including hand hygiene regimens of washing coupled with sanitizing (using an alcohol-based sanitizer, as per CDC’s guidance).


Extension Associate
Agricultural & Human Sciences
Area Specialized Agent, Consumer and Retail Food Safety
Agricultural & Human Sciences
Extension Food Safety Specialist and Associate Professor
Agricultural & Human Sciences

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Publication date: March 18, 2020

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