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Food Safety After COVID-19: Best Practices for Producers, Suppliers, a —

  • CDC
  • WHO
  • FDA

The arrival and aftermath of COVID-19 changed the way we look at food safety - today, social distancing and personal hygiene are its primary aspects. As the health hazards of COVID-19 continue to spread, food safety for all becomes an important issue. Healthcare and food authorities recommend people adopt safe practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and maintain a natural flow in the food chain.

Since understanding the essential steps for food safety is mandatory, this article will shed light on the prerequisites of food safety and its changes because of COVID-19.

What Makes Food Unsafe?

Food safety has always been a significant concern for healthcare authorities, thanks to this supply chain’s complexity and diversity. From crop growers to food suppliers and manufacturers, food safety is an alarming factor at all steps of the way. Unhygienic growth conditions, irregulated manufacturing processes and ignored quality standards collectively make food safety an ever-growing concern.

Foodborne illnesses can kill over 3,000 Americans every year. People living in the U.S. have a 1 in 6 chance of getting sick from food-related causes, and some of these deaths are preventable according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here are the primary differences in global food safety concerns before and after the pandemic:

Before COVID-19

  • Germ contamination. Prior to the pandemic, germ contamination was the primary food safety concern. Unhygienic conditions at any stage of food handling, from harvesting to manufacturing and packaging, could lead to microbial contamination. These conditions are often characterized by a lack of refrigeration, contaminated water, and improper sanitation. FATTOM is an acronym that stands for food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen, and moisture. These are the six factors that affect the growth of microorganisms in food. Most often, it is the combination of time and temperature that causes food to spoil. High temperatures (above 40°C) or long exposure to low temperatures (below 4°C) can cause the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds. Careless handling at retail food stores and eateries was also a common source of contamination and concern. Below are some common microbial contaminants, which should still be a cause for concern post-COVID:
    • Norovirus. This is a highly contagious virus that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. It can be transmitted through contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching surfaces that have been contaminated.
    • Salmonella. Salmonella usually comes from contaminated poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
    • Clostridium perfringens. Can be found on raw meat, poultry, and seafood and can cause severe diarrhea, cramps, and nausea.
    • Campylobacter. Comes from poultry, unpasteurized dairy products, and contaminated water. Symptoms of infection include severe diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps
    • Staphylococcus aureus. Found on meats, poultry, and dairy products. It can cause food poisoning, skin infections, and pneumonia.

    Contaminants that are likely to lead to hospitalization:

    • Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium can cause botulism, a rare but serious illness. It is most commonly found in home-canned foods, but it can also be found in commercial foods. Symptoms include muscle weakness, paralysis, and difficulty breathing.
    • Listeria. Causes listeriosis, a serious infection that can be fatal. It is most commonly found in unpasteurized dairy products, but it can also be found in raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal distress.
    • Escherichia coli. More commonly known as E.coli, this bacterium can cause a wide range of illnesses, from mild diarrhea to life-threatening kidney failure. It is most commonly found in undercooked ground beef, but it can also be found in other meats, poultry, and seafood.
    • Vibrio. Vibrio is a bacteria typically found in saltwater. It can cause a number of illnesses, including cholera, gastroenteritis, and septicemia. It finds its way to food through contaminated seafood. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

After COVID-19

  • Virus contamination. With the pandemic, virus contamination has become the primary food safety concern. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, can survive on surfaces for days. Thus, there is a heightened risk of virus contamination in food at any stage of the supply chain. In particular, there is a greater risk of cross-contamination between different food items during manufacturing, packaging, and transportation. The following food-safety concerns emerged during the pandemic:
    • Exposure to an infected individual. Even if food is not contaminated with the virus, there is a risk of exposure to the virus if an infected individual handled the food. This is a particular concern in the case of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are often handled by many people during harvesting, packaging, and transportation. Short-term exposure is still possible, even if the food is cooked or processed, as the virus can survive in high temperatures for a short period of time.
    • Lack of personal hygiene by others. The lack of personal hygiene by others handling food is another significant concern. This includes both food workers and customers in retail stores. There is a risk of virus transmission if food workers do not wash their hands properly or wear gloves while handling food. Similarly, customers in retail stores may not follow proper hygiene practices, such as not wearing masks while handling food items.
    • Inadequate disinfection of surfaces. There is also a concern that surfaces in the food-supply chain are not being disinfected adequately. This includes surfaces in food processing plants, transportation vehicles, and retail stores. The virus can survive on surfaces for days, so inadequate disinfection can lead to the spread of the virus through food packages and deliveries.

Impact of COVID-19 on Food Safety

  • According to a UN partnered flagship report, around 155 million people experienced food insecurity levels in 2020 due to various factors linked to COVID-19, including extreme weather events, conflicts, and economic shocks.
  • The long-term impacts of COVID-19 on global food safety may lead approximately 660 million people to suffer from hunger in 2030. It’s an addition of 30 million more people than in a pandemic-free scenario.
  • 85% of retailers believe that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, food safety and disinfection practices will be improved in convenience stores’ foodservice operations in the long run.

COVID-19 and Food Demystified

Multiple myths revolve around COVID-19 – this virus infecting your food is a prominent one of them. However, there’s no documentable proof showing COVID-19 affecting the food. This virus needs a living host to survive and grow, something the food cannot be. Therefore, COVID-19 spreading to the food and making it unsafe has been called a hoax. CDC and FDA agree that this virus cannot infect the food, which falsifies multiple conspiracy theories.

COVID-19 needs a live human or animal host to survive and spread. Therefore, this virus spreading from food packages is not a concern. Multiple studies have been conducted on COVID transmission through food, but there are no significant findings.

CDC calls food packages an inhospitable surface for the virus, dismissing the doubts of COVID spread from food packages. However, if an infected person touches the food package, the virus can live on the surface for a few hours, increasing the chances of its spread.

When the pandemic hit the world, the COVID-19 virus transmitting through water and food was another common suspicion, but there are no credible findings around it. According to the World Health Organization, water consumption cannot cause or spread COVID-19 because of being a non-host surface.

COVID-19 and Food Safety Guidelines

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the food value chain, causing havoc for growers, suppliers, and consumers. The pandemic has also created new challenges for food safety professionals working to keep the food supply safe.

  • Growers and producers. The pandemic has disrupted the food supply chain in a number of ways. For example, it has led to the closure of restaurants, schools, and other foodservice establishments, which has had a ripple effect on growers and producers. Many growers have been forced to destroy crops or find new markets for their products. Livestock farmers, in particular, have been hard hit by the pandemic. Lockdown and border closures have disrupted the supply of animal feed, and slaughterhouses have been forced to close. This has led to even more unsanitary conditions, as livestock were kept in overcrowded and unventilated areas.
  • Suppliers. The pandemic has also had an impact on food suppliers. For example, it has led to a shortage of packaging materials, as well as increased demand for certain products (such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes). This has made it difficult for suppliers to keep up with demand. Food sanitation is also a challenge for suppliers, as they must ensure that their products are free of contaminants. This entailed additional overhead costs and production delays.
  • Consumers. The pandemic has changed the way consumers shop for food. For example, many people are now buying food online or in bulk to avoid going to the grocery store. This has led to an increase in food waste, as well as concerns about food safety. Consumers are also more likely to purchase pre-packaged foods, which can be difficult to keep safe.

Guide for Producers

Crop and meat growers make the stepping stone of our food chain. When they follow the recommended food safety guidelines and adhere to the best practices, they can play a significant role in preventing COVID-19.

From facility operations to water handling and product inspection, these are the key points that growers should focus on to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities.

  • Facility Operations: All growers should have a written food safety plan that outlines the steps they will take to protect their crops and livestock from contamination. The plan should include procedures for cleaning and disinfecting the facility, as well as for handling and disposing of waste.
  • Water: Water is a key ingredient in many agricultural products, and it can also be a vehicle for spreading contamination. A written water management plan should include procedures for testing and treating the water, as well as for handling and disposing of wastewater.
  • Plumbing: All plumbing fixtures are potential sources of contamination. Water systems, in particular, should be regularly inspected and maintained. There should also be a written plan for cleaning and disinfecting the plumbing, as well as for handling and disposing of wastewater.
  • Ice: Ice is often used in agricultural products, such as fruits and vegetables. It is also easily contaminated, thus posing a risk to food safety. Growers should know how to handle ice, such as using an approved scoop and storing it in a clean, covered container. All ice machines should be routinely cleaned and disinfected.
  • Food Contact and Non-food Contact Surfaces: Food contact surfaces can become contaminated and spread pathogens. All surfaces that come into contact with food should be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis. Non-food contact surfaces, such as floors and walls, should also be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
  • Food Temperature Control: Pathogens can grow quickly at room temperature. This is why it is important to keep food at safe temperatures, both during storage and transport. All refrigerated and frozen foods should be properly labeled and monitored.
  • Product Inspection: All products should be inspected before they are released for sale. This includes both food and non-food items. Product inspection is an important step in ensuring food safety.
  • Rotation: Product rotation is another important step in preventing foodborne illness. All products should be rotated on a regular basis so that the oldest products are used first. This will help to ensure that food is not overstocked and that it does not exceed its shelf life.
  • Warewashing Equipment: All warewashing equipment should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. This includes dishwashers, sinks, and countertops. All utensils and equipment should be properly sanitized before use.
  • Handwashing Stations: Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of contamination. All handwashing stations should be properly stocked and maintained. Employees should wash their hands frequently, and gloves should be changed on a regular basis.
  • Employee Health / Screening: All employees should be screened for illness before they enter the facility. This includes taking their temperature and asking about any recent illnesses. Employees who are ill should be restricted from working in the facility.
  • Social Distancing: One of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to practice social distancing. This means keeping a distance of at least six feet from others. Employees should stay home if they are feeling ill and avoid congregating in groups.

When Dealing with Animals and Other Livestock

  • Always wear a face mask and disposable gloves while bathing, grooming, or moving the livestock.
  • If there’s a history of breathing-related diseases, ensure sufficient ventilation in the farm/yard.
  • Make sure the animal feed is chemical and toxin-free.

When Dealing with Fruits, Vegetables, and Crops

  • Use fresh water for irrigation.
  • Follow a sustainable farming pattern to protect plant roots and fruit.
  • Organic manure is slightly better than chemical fertilizers and sprays.
  • Food storage facilities should be clean, airy, and easily accessible.
  • The crop should be stored at a safe temperature and transported to the market without any delay.

When Preparing Supplies for Market Transport

  • The workers must wear safety gloves and masks to prevent cross-contamination.
  • The food transport vehicles should follow the safe temperature limits.
  • In case of cross-contamination, the infected fruit should be removed right away.
  • Social distancing should be maintained during all steps of food transportation.
  • Food packaging should be sustainable and done according to the food safety guidelines.
  • High-activity areas like doorknobs of vehicles, steering wheels, and shelves should be regularly sanitized.


Once a food batch leaves the storage facility, the producers or stockers must disinfect the place to control germ spread. If food storage facilities and transport vehicles are airy, controlling disease spread is easier. Therefore, WHO recommends food producers follow sustainable practices and use their space practically.

Guide for Suppliers

The next stage of the food chain revolves around suppliers and retailers. This is where the food is processed or packaged according to the demand. If effective food safety guidelines are implemented at this stage, multiple foodborne diseases can be stopped.

Contamination during food processing and packaging can reach as high as 70%. This is why food safety at this stage is of utmost importance.

When Receiving Supplies from Producers

  • The suppliers should ensure social distancing and hygienic conditions while dealing with food producers.
  • The workers should wear safety gloves and masks to stop germ spread.
  • Food storage facilities should be clean and airy.

When Working in Wet Markets, Slaughterhouses, and Farmer’s Market

  • Using full-body protection suits should be preferred, and they should be cleaned timely.
  • If not the suits, long gloves, caps, and masks should be mandatory in wet working conditions.
  • Food suppliers should ensure a clean working environment where cross-contamination isn’t a concern.

When Packing Raw Goods for Consumers

  • Workers shouldn’t touch the food with bare hands.
  • Sustainable food packages should be preferred.
  • Food must be clean and dry before it goes in the packages.

When Packing Ready-to-Eat Supplies for Consumers

  • The workers should take extra care of their hygiene.
  • Packers must wash their hands and wear rubber gloves before touching ready-to-eat foods.
  • All staff members should cover their heads and wear face masks while cooking and packing the food.


Encouraging the staff to uphold good standards of hygiene is a significant factor of disease prevention. Suppliers should maintain an overall healthy working atmosphere and educate the workers about the virus’s sprawl, impact, and prevention.

Guide for Consumers

Consumers are also responsible for their food safety because careless handling quickly leads to foodborne diseases and viruses. Consumers should maintain the optimal cooking temperature and prepare food in a clean environment. Here are a few more tips the consumers can follow to prevent COVID:

When Cleaning/Disinfecting Goods from the Store/Market

  • Using a 60% alcohol sanitizer is good for food packages, bottles, and boxes.
  • If a delivery person hands you the food package, disinfect it before bringing it in.

When Storing/Preserving Food

  • Choosing the optimal food storage temperature is significant for its safety and quality.
    • Here are the recommended temperatures for food storage of different types:
      • Refrigerated food: below 41°F (5°C)
      • Frozen food: below 0°F (-18°C)
      • Dry food: below 50% moisture content and 60°F (15.5°C)
      • Canned food: below 70°F (21.1°C)
  • The food storage space should be airy and hygienic so that the chances of cross-contamination are low.
  • The ready-to-eat food must be heated at the right temperature to control bacterial growth.
  • The food containers should be disposed of correctly instead of being dumped.

When Preparing/Handling Food

  • Consumers should thoroughly wash raw ingredients before cooking.
  • It’s better to cut any rotten or discolored food parts if everything else seems fine.
  • A hygienic cooking place will ensure the food is always free from the terror of contamination.
  • Heating food must be done at the recommended temperatures to control bacterial growth. Reheating cooked food can be dangerous if not done correctly, such as not reaching 165°F (73.9°C), as bacteria can survive.
  • Chilling cooked food must also be done carefully to maintain its safety.
  • You should avoid contact between cooked and raw food as it can cause cross-contamination.

When Ordering Ready-to-Eat Food

  • Contactless takeaways and dining places should be preferred instead of crowded eateries.
  • Checking the food place’s hygienic conditions is mandatory before ordering.
  • If the food place’s staff doesn’t wear protective gear, ordering from them is risky.

Maintaining Personal Hygiene During COVID-19

Practicing good personal hygiene during the pandemic not only prevents transmission of the virus but can also shield you from food-borne illnesses. Here are some important tips to follow:

  • Washing hands after using the bathroom or touching a potentially infected surface is mandatory.
  • Wearing a mask in crowded places will ensure you don’t inhale the germs and it also keeps you protected from air pollution.
  • Using safety gloves while cooking, working, and dealing with the public will help lower germ spread.
  • Adopting a hygiene routine is beneficial for everyone.
  • Clean and sanitize high-activity areas like kitchen shelves, doorknobs, and taps.
  • Properly dispose of used tissues and masks to prevent virus spread.

Food Handling and Storage

  • Maintaining the optimum food temperature can keep bacteria and other microorganisms from impacting its quality. Make sure the raw meat’s temperature is 40F and below when it’s outside the refrigerator if you wish to keep it safe.
  • All perishables should be washed and dried before you refrigerate them. Since raw food coming from the outside can contain traces of fertilizer sprays and preservatives, you should wash it before putting it with other food items.
  • If you place the frozen food containers in the refrigerator, disinfect them before doing so. A 60% alcohol sanitizer is safe and effective for food packages.
  • Specific food storage considerations:
    • Chillers. Chillers are refrigerators that maintain a temperature below 41°F (5°C). Since many foodborne pathogens grow well at temperatures between 41 and 135°F (5-57°C), it is important to store all potentially hazardous foods in a chiller. All food items in a chiller should have a label that indicates their storage temperature.
    • Freezers, Freezers are used to store food at temperatures below 0°F (-18°C). Like chillers, freezers help to prevent the growth of foodborne pathogens. All food items in a freezer should have a label that indicates their storage temperature.
    • For dry storerooms, the recommended storage temperature is between 50 and 70°F (10-21°C). Foods that are stored in a dry storeroom should be labeled with their storage temperature.
  • Specific food storage considerations based on the type of food:
    • Meat, Poultry, and Seafood. These food items should be stored at temperatures below 41°F (5°C). If they are being thawed, they should be thawed in a chiller or under running cold water. Once thawed, they should be cooked within 24 hours. Seafood, in particular, should be cooked immediately after thawing.
    • Eggs. Eggs should be stored at a temperature between 50 and 70°F (10-21°C). If stored in a hot and humid area, eggs should be refrigerated.
    • Dairy Products. Dairy products should be stored at a temperature between 40 and 70°F (4-21°C). If stored in a chiller, they must be placed in a container that will not drip on other food items.
    • Fresh Produce. Fresh produce should be stored at a temperature between 32 and 41°F (0-5°C). Vegetables that are cut should be placed in a container of cold water. The water should be changed every two hours. Fruits that are cut should be covered with plastic wrap or stored in a container with a lid.
    • Vacuum Packed Food. Vacuum-packed food should be stored at a temperature between 41 and 135°F (5-57°C). The food should be eaten within seven days of being opened. If the food is not going to be eaten within seven days, it should be frozen.
Download the guide here

Food Safety & Hygiene Checklist

The following are step-by-step food handling and preparation guidelines:

Personal Hygiene
  • Employees wear clean and proper uniforms, including shoes and hair restraints.
  • Fingernails are short, unpolished, and clean (no artificial nails).
  • Jewelry is limited to a plain ring and plain earrings (no dangling).
  • Hands with open wounds, scabs, or bandages are completely covered with a disposable foodservice glove while handling food.
  • Hands are washed properly, frequently, and at appropriate times.
  • Eating, chewing gum, smoking, and using tobacco are allowed only in designated areas away from preparation, service, and food storage.
  • Hand sinks are stocked with soap, disposable towels, and warm water, and handwashing signs are posted
  • Employees use disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and then immediately wash their hands.
  • Employees appear in good health and
  • Employee restrooms are operational and clean.
Food Preparation And Handling
  • All food stored or prepared in the facility is from approved sources.
  • Food equipment, utensils, and food contact surfaces are properly washed, rinsed, and sanitized before every use.
  • Frozen food is thawed under refrigeration, cooked to proper temperature from a frozen state, or in cold running water.
  • Thawed food is not refrozen.
  • Preparation is planned, so ingredients are kept out of the temperature danger zone.
  • Food is tasted using the proper procedure.
  • Procedures are in place to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Food is handled with suitable utensils, such as single-use gloves or tongs.
  • Food is prepared in small batches to limit the time it is in the temperature danger zone.
  • Food is cooked to the required safe internal temperature for the appropriate time using a calibrated thermometer.
  • The hot holding unit is pre-heated and food is held at 140° F or above.
  • Hot holding units are not used to reheat or cook food and are kept clean.
  • The cold holding unit is pre-chilled and the food is held at 41° F or below.
  • All food is properly covered, wrapped, labeled, and dated.
  • The temperature of all refrigerated equipment is monitored and documented at the beginning and end of each day.
  • Fruits and vegetables are properly washed to prevent foodborne illness.
  • Appropriate food temperatures are maintained and contamination is prevented during transportation, if applicable.
  • Thermometers are cleaned and sanitized after each use.
  • Clean reusable towels are used only for sanitizing equipment and surfaces and not for drying hands, utensils, or the floor.
  • Food is cooked to the proper internal temperature and is tested with a clean, calibrated thermometer. Temperature is documented.
Food Storage And Dry Storage
  • The refrigerator and freezer units are clean and neat.
  • Food is protected from contamination.
  • All food is stored 6-8 inches off the floor.
  • Food is stored in the original container or a food-grade container, with the delivery date and/or pack date.
  • There are no bulging or leaking canned goods.
  • Chemicals are clearly labeled and stored away from food-related supplies.
  • The temperature of the dry storage area is between 70 ºF and 82 ºF or within the State public health department requirements.
  • The FIFO (First In, First Out) method of inventory management is used.
  • Open bags of food are stored in containers with tight-fitting lids and labeled with a common name.
  • There is a regular cleaning schedule for all food surfaces.
  • Ready-to-eat food is separated from raw food in fridges and freezers.
  • High-risk food is coded and checked daily and stocks are rotated.
  • Dried goods are stored correctly in a suitable room, off the food, and in covered containers.
  • Freezers and fridges are defrosted regularly.
Sanitizing Equipment, Utensils, And Facilities
  • Three-compartment sink is properly set up for washing.
  • Water is clean and free of grease and food particles.
  • The chemical sanitizer is mixed correctly and a sanitizer strip is used to test chemical concentration.
  • Small equipment and utensils are allowed to air dry.
  • All work surfaces, equipment, and utensils are cleaned and sanitized after use.
  • Large equipment, exhaust hood, and filter are cleaned and sanitized routinely.
  • The utensils are allowed to remain immersed in 171 ºF water for 30 seconds when heat sanitizing.
  • Wiping cloths are stored in sanitizing solution while in use.
  • Equipment and utensils, including cutting boards, knives, and can openers are cleaned and sanitized between uses.
  • Boxes, containers, and recyclables are removed from the food preparation site.
  • The loading dock and area around the dumpsters are clean.
Garbage Storage And Disposal & Pest Control
  • Kitchen garbage cans are clean and emptied as necessary.
  • Outside doors have screens, are well-sealed, and are equipped with a self-closing device.
  • The kitchen facility is free of any evidence of pests.
  • Corrective action has been implemented to eliminate pests.
  • Food waste is stored correctly outside and away from other food.
Checks And Record-Keeping
  • All record sheets are up-to-date, checked and verified.
  • All equipment time-temperature combinations are cross-checked.
  • Any new food handling methods and equipment are updated.
  • Any new suppliers are recorded and added to the approved list.
Download the checklist here


COVID-19 is one of the deadliest viruses we have seen to date. With irreversible human loss and economic blows already in the log, we as a global community will have to take the necessary steps and take a stance on proper food safety practices. By following these best practices, you can help stop this virus in its path and avoid being affected by it.