No evidence of foodborne transmission of COVID-19

The Centre members and ESR have clubbed together to produce an urgent review of the literature about coronaviruses and examination of the accumulating evidence about COVID-19 (as at 11 March), which answers questions many of our members have about the risks of food producers and handlers transmitting the virus. A summary of the information from this review follows.


So far, there is no evidence that humans have been infected by swallowing the virus in or on food or drink, though it has been found in a small number of faecal samples. The strong acid in the stomach is thought to destroy this type of virus.


People contract coronaviruses by breathing in infected droplets, or by getting it on their hands, for example, and then touching their face, especially the mucous membrane inside the nose. Conceivably, infectious droplets could land on food, packaging, or other surfaces, and then be transferred to the face via hands – though this has not been proven to occur as yet. The virus can survive for a few days on surfaces, depending on the nature of the material.


The most important thing for the food industry right now is to be vigilant and identify anyone showing symptoms. Food handlers with symptoms, including producers and processors, should go home immediately and contact the Ministry of Health hotline (0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453). A suspected or confirmed infection could have serious consequences for a workplace. However, not reporting it and not acting straight away to isolate all other contacts would have worse long-term outcomes for the reputation of a producer or whole sector, not to mention the health of others.


The Centre will continue to work with members and NZ and international health agencies to track what is happening with COVID-19, and let you know as soon we have any new information to hand that you should be aware of.


All food harvesting and preparation workplaces should urgently review their handwashing facilities and make sure there is plenty of soap, clean water, and preferably paper towels rather than air dryers. Staff must be well trained in, and constantly reminded about, hygiene practices. If there are language barriers, show them how to wash and dry their hands as the Ministry of Health recommends.


This is the current government advice to employers and manufacturers in the food industry:

  • ensure staff are aware of the COVID-19 issue
  • stay informed of staff who have been overseas to affected regions or in contact with persons who have, and seek appropriate medical advice
  • ensure that food handlers are trained appropriately in food hygiene practices appropriate to their premises
  • ensure effective supervision of food handlers to reinforce hygienic practices
  • ensure that appropriate facilities are provided for hand washing or sanitation (e.g. alcohol gels/wipes) to enable food handlers to practice good hygiene
  • ensure that food handlers and external contractors are aware that they must report any signs/symptoms of respiratory illness before or during work
  • keep vigilant and ensure that food handlers and other staff are not ill and are fit to work
  • ensure that staff with symptoms stay home until medical advice is obtained
  • fully support staff through access to medical advice and during convalescence.


If you have any outstanding questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.


Dr Cath McLeod, Director, (Mobile no) +64 (0)21 954 337


Here are some useful links to information we can trust:


Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 (as of 20/2/2020)

Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 presentation can range from no symptoms to severe pneumonia and death. As of 20 February 2020 and based on 55,924 laboratory-confirmed cases, typical signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever (87.9%),
  • Dry cough (67.7%),
  • Fatigue (38.1%),
  • Sputum production (33.4%),
  • Shortness of breath (18.6%),
  • Sore throat (13.9%),
  • Headache (13.6%),
  • Myalgia or arthralgia (14.8%), (Muscle and Joint Pain)
  • Chills (11.4%),
  • Nausea or vomiting (5.0%),
  • Nasal congestion (4.8%),
  • Diarrhoea (3.7%),
  • Haemoptysis (0.9%), (Coughing up blood)
  • Conjunctival congestion (0.8%). (Red eyes (conjunctiva)) 

Source: Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).  

Signs and symptoms, including mild respiratory symptoms and fever, occur on an average of 5-6 days after infection (mean incubation period 5-6 days, range 1-14 days).  



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