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No One Really Knows How Long COVID Virus Lives on Food, Scientists Confirm

But, they're taking a deeper look into how food and food packaging contribute to the spread.

Since the start of the pandemic, one of the big questions has been how COVID-19 spreads. Initially, it was thought to spread primarily via contact with surfaces on which the virus settled. By August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it's most commonly spread via respiratory droplets. Just days ago, top infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci, M.D, characterized the risk of catching COVID from a surface as "very, very minor, minor," and advised we spend less time worrying about wiping down grocery bags and more time washing our hands.

Now, if you're wondering what's with the need for all the handwashing if we can't catch COVID from surfaces, you're not alone. In fact, according to Virginia Tech Daily, a team of researchers at Virginia Tech has received a $1 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to solve the mystery of whether or not, and to what extent, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 can be transferred from food surfaces and food packaging materials onto your hands and then into your body. (Related: 8 Grocery Items That May Soon Be in Shortly Supply.)

"Our knowledge about SARS-CoV-2 virus' survival on foods and food contact surfaces, and in response to different disinfection methods, is very limited," Reza Ovissipour, primary investigator on the project and an assistant professor in food science and technology and the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Experiment Center and a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist, told Virginia Tech Daily. So, too, is our knowledge of what it might take to effectively disinfect food, food surfaces, and the hands of those involved in the food supply chain.

The research is expected to take up to two years and will address such topics as how to ensure that someone won't contract COVID from handling food packaging, and how to properly sanitize at all levels of food distribution and production.

"This project examines the fate of the virus in all steps in the food supply chain—literally from farm to table," Andrea Bertke, a virologist and an associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, explained to Virginia Tech Daily. "My lab focuses mostly on how viruses cause disease, so this is a very interesting project for us, providing an opportunity to impact public health in a different way."

"Based on this systematic approach, adaptable strategies will be developed across the food and agriculture industry to rapidly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic," added Ovissipour.

Until we know the results of this research, here are 20 things you should definitely wash your hands after touching. and the things you're better off not touching at all. To stay up to date on all the latest coronavirus news, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a food, health, and culture writer whose work has appeared online and in print for Reader's Digest as well as Health Digest, Huffington Post, Taste of Home, and others. Read more