The virus that causes COVID-19 is not a direct food safety concern, according to updated guidance from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The guidance replaces interim guidance from the FAO and World Health Organisation on coronavirus and food safety for food businesses, published in April last year.

Its conclusions are similar to two earlier studies, one in January by ESR on behalf of the New Zealand Food Safety Science & Research Centre.

The guidance says: “Current data indicates that neither food nor food packaging is a pathway for the spread of viruses causing respiratory illnesses, including SARS-CoV-2.

“COVID-19 is primarily transmitted during close contact among people through respiratory droplets and aerosols generated by activities such as coughing, sneezing, shouting, singing and speaking. Alternatively, some respiratory droplets may land on surfaces surrounding the infected person.

“Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food or on inanimate surfaces; they can only multiply in humans and certain animals. Once in the environment, viruses degrade and becomes less infectious.”

The guidance aims to help ensure the integrity of the food chain is maintained and adequate and safe food supplies are available for consumers by not restricting supply chains with ineffective measures.

It says the virus is susceptible to most commonly used disinfectants and sanitizers used in the food processing environment. The WHO recommends sanitizers with greater than 70% alcohol with sufficient contact time for decontamination. Common disinfectants with active ingredients based on quaternary ammonium compounds and chlorine also have virucidal properties.

“It remains essential for the food industry and authorities regulating the food industry to protect all workers from person-to-person spread of these viruses by providing a safe work environment, promoting personal hygiene measures and providing training on food hygiene principles,” the guidance says.

It also covers general principles of worker protection and advice for those in primary production, food processing, transport and at retail level such as shops, restaurants and other food outlets.

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