Food Safety & Traceability Update - COVID-19 -November 2020

5 November 2020

Food Safety & Traceability Update - COVID-19 -November 2020

This is a topic that is not going to go away in a hurry, like it or not. In its own right, COVID-19 clearly represents a risk to human health, as well as a risk to our economy. On a more detailed level, the questions that have been exercising scientists and health officials globally has been, “how does the virus get transmitted”, and “do we understand all of the different ways that are potential infection pathways?”.

From the produce industry perspective, this had led to querying how long the virus can survive on fresh fruit and vegetables, how fruit & vegetables need to be treated to reduce the risk, and whether the virus can also be transmitted via packaging or surfaces, such as packing benches, as produce moves through the supply chain.

Answering critical questions such as these, is not easy at the best of times, but especially so when an entirely or more virulent strain of an existing virus appears, as this involves scientists discussing, debating, and arguing about correct management methodologies, statistical processes, risk categorisations, and the like.

Whilst the indications now are that the virus had emerged in China in November 2019 or prior, the non-China science community did not start its learning process about COVID-19 until early 2020. Some of the knowledge about COVID-19 is therefore still “a work in progress”, but here is what the New Zealand Food Safety & Science Research Centre (NZFSSRC) is able to tell us from their July Research (

  • There is still no evidence that food is a source or a transmission route for COVID-19, and there is very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.
  • No published studies of SARS-CoV-2 survival on fresh food were located.
  • The report linked to US CDC and the EU Food Safety Authorities in noting that: “Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19.”
  • Mask wearing, and healthy hygiene practices are noted as major methods in helping control the virus.
  • The report links back to the CDC’s guidance on washing produce (, where it is noted that produce should be washed in clean water only, with soaps or cleaners NOT to be used.